Prithviraj in Aadujeevitham
Prithviraj in Aadujeevitham

Prithviraj and Blessy take great pains for Aadujeevitham, leave lasting images

Only the drama, with all the efforts of the team in front and behind the camera, is mostly unaffecting.
Aadujeevitham (Malayalam)(3 / 5)

On the rare evening that a truck stops by the barn, Najeeb the shepherd pauses by the side mirror and discovers a beard flowing down his unrecognisably tanned face. Clutching it like a child confused by its own reflection, he breaks down, sitting among the sheep he has been tending to for years, in a forsaken place much too far from home. To the viewers watching the sad story of Najeeb in a film, Prithviraj Sukumaran, the actor, looks as unrecognisable as Najeeb is to himself in that moment. In film, it would seem he transformed right in front of your eyes, the stocky form of the man reduced to skin and bones within the hours of a single movie. A director who goes to lengths to make his films convincing, Blessy did not leave much to chance when he took to filming one of the most popular books to come out in Malayalam. 

Benyamin’s Aadujeevitham, the book that came 14 years before the movie, left in the minds of its readers heartbreaking images of the Malayali Gulf life. Beginning with the 1970s, a wave of change had descended on Kerala as its people began migrating in large numbers to the ‘Gulf’, as the West Asia countries are called, so they could earn enough to build homes and futures for the family. But life in the Gulf, often romanticised in fictional accounts, is rarely presented the way it has been for thousands.

Najeeb’s is a real life Gulf story that Benyamin, another former Gulf Malayali, found too distressing to keep with himself and wrote a slightly fictionalised account of, just so it would reach more people. Aadujeevitham detailed the slave-like existence of Najeeb who was trapped in an Arabian desert, with no way to contact another, without even a bath or shave for years, with only cruel masters to beat and punish him. 

Years later, when Blessy decided to make it a film, he got Prithviraj, one of the most hardworking actors in Malayalam, on board. The effort thrown into the film is clear from a mere glance at the visuals, the desert of nowhere leaving lasting images in your mind, the sound of sheep and the smoky sandstorms pulling you into the labyrinth of hopelessness that Najeeb had fallen into. Sunil KS, the cinematographer, zooms into the pits of Najeeb’s starving figure and then takes the camera up to give you a bird’s eye view of the vastness of the desert.

Then there is AR Rahman. It is possibly not by design but as you witness Najeeb’s most hopeless moments, the soothing vocals of Rahman or the identifiable turn of notes lets you break out of the scene and revel in the relief of finding something familiar in a lost terrain. 

Only the drama, with all the efforts of the team in front and behind the camera, is mostly unaffecting. The heightened background score and the squeaky half-sentences uttered by the characters do not convey the emotional high the sequences are meant to, but end up stagey and unconvincing. Perhaps it is to convey how unused their voices have been, or serve as a metaphor for the goat-like existence the characters have been reduced to. But they don't have the desired effect. Back home, the romance between Najeeb and his newly-wed (Amala Paul) is also far too cheesy for a film weaved on realism.

Not that you can pin the fault on Prithviraj, who has shed his typical overenthusiasm and adapted a mostly mild body language for Najeeb. In at least a couple of sequences, his movements are so raw that it leaves a lump in your throat. This includes a moment when he finally disrobes to take a bath in ages, and another when he sees kindness in a man on the road and acts like a wounded animal, unwilling to trust. 

Despite its long duration (nearly three hours) and lengthy shots of crossing a desert, the film does not bore you. If you are prone to get philosophical, it also leaves you with quite a few thoughts to reflect upon, starting with being human, and wondering why we do the things we do.

Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Neither TNM nor any of its reviewers have any sort of business relationship with the producers or any other members of its cast and crew.

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