Prithviraj in 'Aadujeevitham', out in UAE cinemas now Image Credit: IMDB

There’s a breathtaking scene in Prithviraj’s survival drama ‘Aadujeevitham’ where a flock of goats is drinking from a water trough, but if you look closely, there’s an emaciated man with unkempt dry hair also drinking from the same container. You can hardly tell the difference, and that’s what this visceral survival adventure underlines. Animals are not treated as bestially as the ones who reluctantly tend to them.

Prithviraj Sukumaran, who underwent a drastic physical transformation and shrunk to half his size, plays Najeeb, a young Malayali man who heads to the Middle East to earn a better living in director Blessy's 'Aadujeevitham'.

His diminutive friend Hakim, played brilliantly by actor KR Gokul, also gets a job as a cleaner just like Najeeb. They don’t know the local language and cannot speak Hindi or English, putting them at an instant disadvantage in the foreign country. They lack worldly exposure and find themselves carted into a truck like livestock into a desert straight from the airport. They are forced into becoming goat herds and face unspeakable cruelty in the hands of their toxic bosses.

Prithviraj gives it his all in 'Aadujeevitham'

This movie, albeit visually stunning, is not for the squeamish. A good part of the three-hour survival adventure is desolate, bleak, and disturbing. You see Najeeb being dehumanised and treated so horribly that you are forced to look away from the screen many times.

Director Blessy and actor Prithviraj don’t shy away from excavating deep and showcasing how depraved your life can get in the hands of toxic and abusive employers. The systemic and pervasive culture of human bondage and life in captivity is highlighted in a no-frills manner. But at no point does Najeeb’s physical and emotional suffering feel exploitative. The isolation that he feels while surrounded in a desert with just animals for company is deeply disturbing. Scenes in which Prithviraj forgets to speak to human beings and speaks in gluttaral noises just takes your breath away.

The realisation that this film is based on a true-life story pulls you down further. In the first half, you almost feel there’s no respite in sight. The human suffering shown remarkably by Prithviraj and his slow decay is relentless in the way it hits you. The unending desert and the lack of civilization for miles and miles indicate that help and escape are far away.

But what makes you invested in a film that revels in dark spaces? It’s the explosive performances from the lead cast comprising Prithivraj, KR Gokul, and Jimmy Jean-Louis that keep you hooked. Jean-Louis plays the towering African who takes these two Indians under his wings and plots their escape from their remote and desolate farms. His presence is comforting knowing that these two Indian men are clueless and don't have the physciality to survive a desert escape. 

There are many standout scenes in this film, but the one that may tear at your heart and make you reach for the tissues is the one where Prithviraj’s character is about to escape from the farm but takes a quick shower with water, a forbidden commodity, and gets ready from clothes that he brought from Kerala. The way he breaks down -- several times in the film -- leaves the viewers spent and exhausted.

The pants are hanging off him, since he’s barely given anything to eat or drink. But he still keeps them on with a thread from a sack as his makeshift belt. Another scene that tore at you was when he bid goodbye to the goats that he tended to. He didn’t have much time on him, but his desperation to escape laced with his fondness for those mute, helpless animals before he makes a desperate run was beautifully portrayed.

The way he breaks down -- several times in the film -- is also a masterclass in an actor who completely surrenders himself to his craft. It doesn't feel stagey or contrived.

What made Prithviraj’s portrayal of Najeeb stand out is that he’s no macho hero in this film. He’s a hapless man who can’t even communicate well and is often lost at what’s happening around him. Even when he manages to find help by walking through the desert sun for days together without water or food, he has no answers. Najeeb’s story is the story of many workers who travel far from their native country to eke out a living. A telling scene during the climax when a scared Najeeb is in a human line-up and the guy next to him explains that he was abducted and forced into that brutal job is a truly touching one. Prithviraj shines as an actor in that moment.

While Prithivraj does the heavy lifting, actors Jimmy Jean-Louis and KR Rahul play their parts well. 

While the movie is largely somber and grim in theme, Amala Paul, who plays Prithviraj’s wife Sainu, is on call to those bright bits in a movie that’s about human suffering. She appears in flashbacks in Najeeb's dreams when his life takes nightmarish turns.

Prithviraj and Amala Paul in 'Aadujeevitham'

The songs, composed by Oscar winner AR Rahman, also work as a balm and his music score works well in the scenes where Prithviraj and his mates are trying to make it alive.

Be warned, the pace of the movie is slow and there will be times when you feel there’s no end in sight. The scenes where they are trudging along the desert, with no road or humans in sight, can get repetitive. 

But stay with them, not just as a nod to the actors but to the whole team who made this movie come alive. And, knowing that it’s a true story of human resilience makes it even more extraordinary.

Our Gulf News Rating:
Film: Aadujeevitham
Language: Malayalam
Director: Blessy
Cast: Prithviraj, KR Gokul, Jimmy Jean-Louis and Amala Paul
Stars: 3.5 out of 5