'Aadujeevitham' review: Behold, a classic

'Aadujeevitham' demands to be watched in all its grandeur on the big screen


When do we classify a film as a 'classic'? Is it a label reserved for works that transcend the constraints of time and space, leaving an indelible mark on the collective consciousness of cinema enthusiasts? Is it a film that reflects social, political, and cultural zeitgeist with remarkable authenticity while simultaneously exploring universal truths that resonate across cultures? Does it reshape the very trajectory of filmmaking, leaving an enduring imprint on the art form itself? Is it a film that captivates audiences with its artistic brilliance, cultural significance, and enduring resonance? Is it a film that captivates audiences with its artistic brilliance, cultural significance, and lasting resonance, while also delivering an impeccable technical experience? Blessy’s Aadujeevitham (The Goatlife) undoubtedly earns its place as a classic in Indian cinema, embodying near-perfect filmmaking that meets all the criteria for this esteemed label.

The mass migration of skilled and unskilled labourers from Kerala to Gulf states began in the early 1970s. Many of these migrants relied on bank loans, assistance from friends and family, and the liquidation of assets to finance their journey to various Gulf countries. Aadujeevitham follows the journey of two such unskilled migrant laborers—Najeeb Mohammed (Prithviraj Sukumaran) and Hakeem (K.R. Gokul)—who wish to secure promising jobs and a better life for their families in the early 1990s. Little did they anticipate the harsh reality awaiting them: working under a cruel Arab man, tending goats and camels across the desert.

The Kafala system, a legal framework established in the 1950s, governs the employment of foreign migrant labourers in Saudi Arabia and numerous other Gulf states. However, evidence suggests that this system has perpetuated exploitation, slavery, dismal living conditions, and meager wages for migrant workers. The crux of the issue lies in the migrant labourers’ legal dependence on a single sponsor or employer for their right to live and work in the Gulf countries. Historically, the Kafala system has bound labourers to abusive sponsors, denying them the ability to transfer employment when faced with exploitation. Aadujeevitham emerges as arguably the most poignant indictment of this oppressive system ever depicted in world cinema. Incidentally, this sensitive film faces censorship hurdles in most GCC countries, with the exception of the UAE.

Despite its bold stance against labour abuses, exploitation, and racial discrimination, the film subtly weaves these themes into its narrative backdrop. Blessy masterfully immerses the audience in the physical and psychological traumas endured by Najeeb, as well as his long journey to survival.

Prior to the film's release, Blessy remarked that without Prithviraj, the project would not have been feasible. Prithviraj Sukumaran, who is among the most stylish actors in Malayalam cinema, wholeheartedly surrendered his body to Blessy's vision to bring Najeeb to life. The result is remarkable, as except for a few instances in flashback scenes, Prithviraj virtually disappears, allowing Najeeb and his arduous trail to command the screen entirely. 

National award-winning editor A. Sreekar Prasad, along with cinematographer Sunil K.S., deserves commendation on par with Prithviraj for their contributions in realising Blessy’s vision to a world-class standard. The filmmaker skilfully draws parallels between the two worlds in which Najeeb has lived throughout his life. Prasad’s editing seamlessly blends these contrasting realms, prompting the audience to question things often taken for granted in our own land, within the confines of our homes. In the hands of Blessy, the desert becomes not just a backdrop but a character in its own right. The vast and unforgiving beauty as well as the terrors of the desert landscape is skilfully captured in Aadujeevitham. Sunil K.S. 's lens transforms the seemingly barren expanse into a breathtaking canvas of shifting sands and endless horizons, where every grain tells a story of resilience and survival. Through meticulous framing and evocative lighting, the desert scenes pulsate with a palpable sense of isolation and longing, echoing Najeeb's internal struggles and external challenges.

Jointly produced by Visual Romance Image Makers, Jet Media Production and Alta Global Media, Amala Paul, Haitian actor and producer Jimmy Jean-Louis and Omani actor Talib Al Balushi form the important supporting cast in the film. Talib Al Balushi delivers an incredible performance as the cruel ‘Khafeel’ of Najeeb. 

A.R. Rahman did the music for the film. The tracks 'Periyone Rahmane' and the Palestinian folk song 'Badaweih' are intelligently placed in the film. While the background score generally meets expectations, this reviewer notes that certain segments, particularly those portraying moments of hope by the end of the film, lack the emotional resonance one would expect. Nevertheless, these minor shortcomings are easily forgiven in light of the overall scale and craftsmanship with which Blessy delivers this film.

Hardcore fans of Benyamin’s novel may notice that certain episodes with significant shock value have been omitted from the film. Some may argue that this detracts from the depth of the narrative compared to the source material. However, this reviewer believes that the novel and the film should be regarded as distinct works, diverging at times in its narrative but ultimately converging at crucial points in the story. Undoubtedly, much like the novel, which sheds light on the lives crushed under the exploitative Kafala system, this film also serves justice to its portrayal.

Blessy devoted 16 years to sculpting this visual masterpiece, meticulously tailored for the theatrical experience. Aadujeevitham demands to be watched in all its grandeur on the big screen.

Movie: Aadujeevitham

Directed by: Blessy

Starring: Prithviraj Sukumaran, Amala Paul, Jimmy Jean-Louis, Talib Al Balushi

Rating: 4.5/5


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