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Indian filmmakers are notoriously prolific. In 2023 alone, over 1,300 movies were rolled out, indicating that when it comes to cinematic quickies, speed is expected and appreciated. But National Award-winning filmmaker, Blessy, doesn’t let time dictate his filmmaking process. His latest Malayalam-language survival thriller, ‘Aadjujeevitham’ (The Goat Life), which continues to play in UAE cinemas since its release on March 28, took over 16 years to make.

Adapted from the best-selling Malayalam novel, the visceral film is led by Malayalam A-lister Prithviraj who plays Najeeb, an Indian immigrant in the Middle East who is forced into labour as a goat-herder in the desert. It’s a true-life story.

Director Blessy who spearheaded 'Aadujeevitham' (The Goat Life)

In its fifth week of theatrical run in the UAE cinemas, the movie has seen an impressive 266,886 admissions, according to its local distributors Phars Film.

Excerpts from our interview with Blessy on his passion project and why he thought Prithviraj was the perfect choice ...

‘Aadujeevitham’ was an engaging, but disturbing watch … How difficult and emotionally draining was it to make this film?

I read the novel Aadujeevitham in 2009, and during my first read, I had already visualised a movie in my mind. But my problems started when I finally decided to make the movie because I cannot think of another recent novel in Malayalam literature that has been so widely read. Each reader would have generated unforgettable images in their minds, and it’s not easy for a filmmaker to make a movie that will beat those images. It is very critical that the movie is better than all those images. Writing a book is much easier; the writer can take a lot of liberty. For example, the writer can describe with his words about how snakes were slithering around, and the reader can imagine the type of snake. The writer can just write the word ‘sheep’, but the filmmaker has to understand that there are different breeds of sheep. The sheep found in Arabian countries is of the Awassi breed, and I had to find that out through my own research. But all this came much later. In Benyamin’s novel Aadujeevitham, the narration is through Najeeb’s soliloquy. But in cinema, there cannot be any soliloquy and is all about continuity of images. The images and incidents spread over 43 chapters in the story need to be condensed to three hours. And, that was just the first challenge …

We can imagine … You spent over 16 years of your life making this movie …

The first critical stage of filmmaking is looking at the logics and continuity. For cinema, continuity is the most important element, but writing a book isn’t limited by those factors. While reading a book, you can take breaks and not finish it in one go, but a film cannot afford such luxuries … The first decision was to acknowledge that I was not documenting the novel ‘Aadujeevitham’, but was chronicling my views and images of the struggles of survival of a man lost in the desert. So many scenes from the novel were left out, and I have added a few scenes from my own experiences and imagination … Particularly, when it came to Najeeb’s character. His two-year transformation in the book where he becomes almost bestial in the desert and forgets his own wife or dear mother isn’t realistic for cinema, so I had to make it more realistic. The production of such a film is another challenge along with finding the right location. For a Malayalam movie, the production budget largely depends on the location of the shoots. During the shoot, we were exposed to the vagaries of nature too … There were four or five days at a stretch where we had to suspend all shooting and do nothing because of the sandstorms.

Why do you decide to cast a high-profile and mainstream actor like Prithviraj for the lead role?

Don’t forget, he was cast 15 years ago. Many people have asked me this same question and whether he was a miscast? Many wondered if an actor like him would be suited to play a common man’s role. But as a director, how we use the skills of an actor is important. Prithviraj is a committed actor who studies, understands, and plays any character with utmost sincerity. He was willing to spend a lot of time with us to analyse and understand Najeeb’s character and what it demanded. I have not gone wrong in casting him.

Prithviraj in 'Aadujeevitham' (The Goat Life)

If you look at survival movies like ‘Castaway’ and ‘The Revenant’, the focus is on spectacle … But in your film, the emotional nuance is more prominent. Were you insistent that it should not be a mere spectacle?

Each filmmaker has his own approach towards his film. My approach is that my character should retain his soul … My intention is not to create a ‘spectacular’ movie.

There is a touching scene in which Najeeb bids farewell to all the animals in the farm. Was it a part of the novel or your imagination …?

Yes, there was such a scene in the novel. But unlike dogs or cats, goats are devoid of any perceptible emotion and appear brainless … In the first schedule, I had taken a trainer from Bombay circus to Jordan to shoot such scenes. But he failed miserably and did not turn up later. Then we had to use our brains to shoot those scenes somehow. We had to shoot a scene where the goat pees. We had to wait and wait till the goat started peeing. This taught many lessons. We think what we make is the result of our efforts alone; but we are miserably wrong.

Prithviraj in 'Aadujeevitham'

Many film viewers say that Aadujeevitham can be India’s entry to the Oscars … Did you harbour such grand expectations with ‘Aadujeevitham’?

Never … I don’t make movies to win any award and nor have I ever seen any of my movies along with the public. People often ask me about the first day, first show response, but I tell them that the film has now ceased to be mine or my team’s, and that it now belongs to the public. So, I am not the one talking about the Oscars, but those who have seen it have begun talking about it being worthy of that distinction.

Director Blessy with music director AR Rahman, who has composed the music and background score for 'Aadujeevitham'

Malayalam cinema, known for its modest budgets, is enjoying a glorious moment with most movies doing incredible well at the box office and also currying favour with critics …. But are budgets still a constraint?

Yes, the budget has always been a constraint for Malayalam films. But of late, there’s a perceptible change. A couple of movies with Rs1 billion-plus budget have been released lately and have generated a good response ... Having said that, it was painstaking for ‘Aadujeevitham’ to reach the theatres. This movie is not merely about immigration. It’s about a man’s struggle for survival, discontentment, and later hope … I have always believed that the hope for survival should always be nurtured. The love for life should be kept alive.

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'Aadujeevitham' is out in UAE cinemas now