'Aadujeevitham': Reading Blessy's Prithviraj-starrer in the light of Benyamin's classic

Aadujeevitham poster, book cover. Photo: IMDb

Literary adaptations are read rather than watched in the light of the source material, and that's a risk every filmmaker who embarks on this creative journey knowingly takes. Blessy is no exception; his 'Aadujeevitham' (The Goat Life) is closely compared with Benyamin's classic, despite the master filmmaker's insistence that the portrayal of Najeeb in the film differs from that in the novel. Tasked with navigating audience expectations and perceptions, Blessy has managed deviations or interpretations of the original fairly well, crafting a classic survival drama out of 'Aadujeevitham', only touching upon Najeeb's goat life partially.

Blessy's opening sequence of the film - a macro shot of sand granules trembling in a massive sandstorm before melding into it - creates the impression that the filmmaker aims to displace even the minutest fragments of the written text from the viewers' hearts while preparing them for his cinematic rendition of the novel. The sequence also gives a glimpse of what to expect from the powerhouses behind the project. The sound of the trembling sand granules getting forged into the roaring storm bears the signature of Resul Pookutty. AR Rahman's magic takes over as the storm eventually settles down in the coldness of the desert night. A. Sreekar Prasad's editing couldn't have gotten a better curtain-raiser than the moment when Najeeb and the goats dip their face into the calmness of the starlit sky to quench their thirst creating ripples in the reflection in a tank. When Najeeb gazes up at the audience, Sunil K. S draws waning crescents in his eyes with the grey and blue hues of the night, which mirror the gradual erosion of his life.
Also Read: 'Aadujeevitham': Life of Sainu without Najeeb - an imagination through her eyes

Giving a peek at his version of Najeeb's goat life at the masara, Blessy cuts away to Najeeb and Hakim landing in Saudi Arabia for the first time. Unfortunately, these goat-life moments are what book lovers miss the most in Blessy's version. There are crumbs of Najeeb's goat life spread across the first half but only enough to lead the viewers to the survival saga in the second half.

After initially opposing his circumstances, Benyamin's Najeeb accepts it as the will of his god; he is shown as a pious man bearing the resemblance to a Sufi fakir. In the depth of his despair when he questions his god, though, for a moment, Benyamin's Najeeb repents it immediately. Najeeb from the book submits himself to this supreme will, denouncing the thoughts about escaping from the desert even when he yearns to be with his pregnant wife and mother. However, to maintain the cinematic structure, Blessy draws his Najeeb as someone who is constantly in conflict with the circumstances. It gives the director the space to cut away to Najeeb's memories, which always unfold amidst lush green drenched in rain or surrounded by streams. Driven away from this greener pasture into the lifelessness of dessert, no wonder Blessy's Najeeb doesn't seem to regret questioning his god. He is more vocal about his miseries.

In the loneliness of the desert, Benyamin's Najeeb eventually evolves into a goat. In that animal world, his past bears no dominion. One night after that complete transition, afire by carnal feelings, when Najeeb gives in to the animal instincts, the readers don't feel anything unnatural. When that storm of madness settles, Najeeb wakes up next to a sheep he calls Pochakkari Ramani. Answering a question about not including this episode in the movie, Blessy explained that his story progresses on Najeeb's longing to go home and meet his wife, son and mother. A scene like that wouldn't have done justice to the years Sainu spent waiting for Najeeb.

In the movie, apart from the opening sequence of Prithviraj sucking water from the tank in the masara, the only other time when Blessy shows traces of a goat in his protagonist is when he shares a khubus with one of his sheep while taking shelter inside a cave. The moment, however, is short-lived as Najeeb is drawn to the other side of the mountain by a human voice. Blessy's Najeeb always had a human calling and his relationship with goats was always that of a caretaker and subject never that of two animals.

The sequence is an extreme contrast to the other wide overlit golden-hued desert shots in the movie and Sunil goes all out to picture it. When Najeeb moves through the cavern to the other side, Sunil is left with a palette of black and grey, yet he leaves us enchanted by showing shadows and light reflected from rocks moving on the protagonist's face. Wish Sreekar Prasad had stayed with that shot instead of rushing to show us the other side of the mountain, though it is important. Resul Pookutty is the other person who scores in this sequence. The sounds of raindrops falling inside the cave, the unsettledness of sheep and the shepherd's humming echoing from the desert passing through a cave opening are created with impeccable perfection.

Blessy's 'Aadujeevitham' is a showcase of a tug-of-war between two Oscar-winning artists. Resul Pookutty's impeccable sound design, like sand slipping in the weight of humans and animals and the wind whistling through the dunes, is perfectly complemented by AR Rahman's songs of the desert featuring Navin Chandar's flute. Blessy masterfully orchestrates this synergy, creating a truly immersive cinematic experience for theatre and the Academy Awards.

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