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Rediff.com  » Movies » The Goat Life Review: Prithviraj Is Terrific In Blessy's Survival Epic

The Goat Life Review: Prithviraj Is Terrific In Blessy's Survival Epic

By ARJUN MENON
April 01, 2024 11:04 IST
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Aadujeevitham marks a new direction for Malayalam cinema, where ambition meets resources and the right people, all in favour of stories that deserve to be told on the biggest stage of them all, notes Arjun Menon.

Two people, a stout man in his late 30s, and a seeming teenager arrive at an airport and they look around for someone holding out their names on a clipboard.

They seem clueless and don't know a language other than Malayalam. They look around in vain in hopes of catching a glimpse of their incoming sponsor.

This is the beginning of Blessy's Aadueejevitham (The Goat Life), where we get our two main characters Najeeb and Hakeem introduced in the simplest of ways.

Director Blessy makes us connected with his two primary characters through these brief sequences that show us their relationship and naivety of the two immigrants, and their hopeful eyes gleaming with the prospects of a new life in the faraway county.

 

Just moments before they are picked up by the 'Kafeel' (meaning 'sponsor' in Arabic), we feel bad for having to look on, as these two people walk into a nightmarish trap.

We know the horrific fate awaiting these two simpletons in the barren deserts.

We understand that they have been cheated and taken away as slaves into a 'Masara, where they are meant to spend the rest of their lives, tending to goats and camels.'

Aadujeevitham is a faithful adaptation of Benyamin's source text based on the life of the reel life Najeeb and his unimaginable experiences that happened in the 1990s, the period in which the film is set.

Only a perceptive storyteller like Blessy can mine most of the novel's setting.

The first great thing he does is juxtaposition the desert dunes of Najeeb's present life, with the damp, moistened flashbacks showing his life back home as a sand-mining worker, swooping up sand from the depths of the river.

This kind of screenwriting trick helps us form a contrasting picture in our head and we get instantly captivated by how a person brought up in such a lush, green-tinted setting can cope with the intense heat and water-deprived deserts, where bathing and sanitation are out of bounds and life is an exercise in perseverance.

A lesser film-maker or writer would have passed over this small thread or underused it in a way tangential to the story but Blessy makes it a structural engine.

He uses the flashbacks as momentary punctuation to make us feel for Najeeb and his dire circumstances.

We get beautifully designed visual segues that connect the flashbacks involving the wife, which stand out against his solitude trapped in the loop of goat herding.

Sunil K S does a remarkable job of moving tactically between hoards of goats and camels that form the foreground blockers for many shots. The camera captures the painstaking dryness of the desert and does so in a way that refuses to stylise the visuals to make them look epic or otherworldly.

The visuals just exist to document Najeeb’s gradual descent into a kind of primal loneliness.

Prithviraj Sukumaran is unrecognisable as the fragile, dwindling bearded figure, who moves between goats as if in a defiant death march against his fate that has him trapped with nowhere left to go.

We don't get the cocky, self-assured staples he is usually known for in his on-screen parts. The actor goes deep into the numbing reality of a slave caught in an unrelenting world.

The actor single-handedly elevates normal-seeming stretches in the screenplay with his peculiar affectations and cadence that works as the slow unwinding of a man left with no human company.

The straightforward narrative trappings of Blessy's iteration of the novel are overcome by the committed performance of the leading man who comes across as a cipher for hope and an undying human spirit.

Amala Paul gets a mostly one-note placeholder part that is meant to represent Najeeb's hopes in life but the actress leaves a mark in the lively, romantic encounters in the flashback sequences.

Gokul, playing Hakeem, and Jimmy Jean Louis playing Ibrahim Khadiri, a mysterious figure guiding Najeeb and Hakeem on their journey, too get to make a mark in the viscerally affecting survival sequences.

We get a sense of their backstories through well-put-together montages.

Blessy makes great use of A R Rahman in a film, with a controlled score that hovers above the film with minimalist integrity in most places.

Rahman understands the stakes of the character piece and uses his score as a balm to sprinkle some vibrancy into the bleak survival story. The songs are soothing add-ons that make the more intense scenes work better with the contrast working in its favour.

The animals in the film also get some exquisitely conceived scenes, as in a scene where Najeeb, after being hit by a wild goat two times over, is asked to continue hoarding the goats by his gun-wielding captor.

Then we see the camera following a small goat walking up to him and, as if mindful of his helplessness, calling upon the other goats to come back to their hoard.

It is a deftly staged sequence that makes you feel alive for a fleeting moment.

Blessy is careful in capturing these mundane, quiet moments and forgoes some of the monologues and philosophical underpinnings of the source text for more spacious spiritualism.

The film is so invested in the mere fact that such a life unfurled for real that the nitty gritty details seem expendable for Blessy, in the bigger picture.

Aadujeevitham can find its place comfortably in Blessy's oeuvre occupied by protagonists stilted by some sort of personal setbacks that slowly manifest into a search for identity within themselves to make sure of their place in the world.

The film is the least dramatically charged of his movies, based more on emotional arcs and humane flourishes but packs a visceral punch, nonetheless.

Aadujeevitham marks a new direction for Malayalam cinema, where ambition meets resources and the right people, all in favour of stories that deserve to be told on the biggest stage of them all.

Aadujeevitham (The Goat Life) Review Rediff Rating:

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ARJUN MENON
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