|Edited by||A. Sreekar Prasad|
|Music by||A. R. Rahman|
Aadujeevitham (transl. Goat life), also titled The Goat Life, is an upcoming survival drama film written, directed, and co-produced by Blessy. The film is an international co-production between companies in India and the United States, and features dialogues in both Arabic and Malayalam languages. It is an adaptation of the 2008 Malayalam novel of the same name by Benyamin, which is based on a true story. The film stars Prithviraj Sukumaran as Najeeb, a Malayali immigrant worker forced into slavery as a goatherd in a farm in Saudi Arabia.
The film was in development hell since 2009. Blessy wanted to adapt Aadujeevitham ever since he read the novel in 2008. Prithviraj was cast in the same year, but there was no progress due to budget constraints. Over the years, Blessy searched for a producer until he found K. G. Abraham, and the film was finally set in motion in 2015. Jimmy Jean-Louis and Steven Adams also joined Blessy as producers. A. R. Rahman composed the film's original score and songs.
Principal photography took place in phases between March 2018 and July 2022 through five schedules in the deserts of Wadi Rum, Jordan and the Sahara, Algeria, with some scenes shot in Kerala, India. The crew was stranded in Jordan for 70 days during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. The film's principal photography concluded on 14 July 2022.
Aadujeevitham, filmed in 3D, is planning to have a world premiere at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival, and tentatively scheduled to be released in theatres worldwide in the latter half of 2023.
In 2010, it was reported that Blessy had embarked upon the adaptation of Benyamin's 2008 Malayalam novel Aadujeevitham for a feature film. In April 2010, he told to The Hindu that he was working on the screenplay and the film would be made on a wider canvas. He also confirmed that Prithviraj Sukumaran had been cast in the lead role. Blessy had been contemplating the adaptation of a literary work for cinema ever since he had a discourse with journalist and writer V. K. Ravi Varma Thampuran about the waning tradition of adapting literary works, which was popular in Malayalam cinema during the 1970s and 1980s. Blessy wanted to adapt Aadujeevitham for a big-budget film ever since he read it in 2008, "I was particularly attracted to the visual images that came through while reading the book". In the novel, Kayamkulam native Najeeb Muhammad goes missing in Saudi Arabia where he ends up as a slave to a farm owner. In 2009, Blessy entered into a contractual agreement with Benyamin after discussing and reaching a consensus with director Lal Jose. This was because Jose had previously expressed interest in adapting the novel to Benyamin. Blessy began screenplay writing after obtaining the rights. He noted that the film would incorporate additional material beyond what is present in the book.
Reportedly, filming was set to begin in August 2010 at the deserts of Dubai and Rajasthan. However, it did not go off. In 2012, Benyamin said that the film was still on discussion phase and had been postponed for the time being since its production cost was found to be not viable for a Malayalam film. Blessy had been discussing the film with Prithviraj since 2008. In 2015, recalling the film's stagnant development to date, Prithviraj said that there were occasions when they could work out the film, albeit with some compromises, but Blessy insisted on waiting for the right producer since he was not ready to compromise his vision. For years, Blessy was searching for a producer until he met industrialist K. G. Abraham and the project was greenlit in 2015 as a 3D film. An official announcement of the same was held on 5 November 2015 at Kuwait. Jet Media Production's Jimmy Jean-Louis and Alta Global Media's Steven Adams also joined Blessy's Visual Romance Image Makers as producers. According to Prithviraj, Blessy had conceived Aadujeevitham as an "event film" in the lines of Life of Pi as the narrative goes from one event to the other non-linearly.
Parallel to the new announcement, also in November 2015, Blessy told to The Hindu that he was occupied with the research work of another film, which would be disclosed later, which would go on before Aadujeevitham. In May 2016, Blessy confirmed that he was busy with the pre-production work of the Hindi remake of his Malayalam film Thanmathra (2005) and Aadujeevitham would happen only after that. He later updated that work of both the films were progressing simultaneously and casting and scheduling would decide which film would go on first. Meanwhile, he was already through the production of documentary film 100 Years of Chrysostom (2018) which had begun earlier in May 2015, which he would complete in two years. In October 2016, Blessy said Aadujeevitham would begin filming in early 2017 and release in 2018. In mid-2017, he said that they had the screenplay ready but the locations had not been decided and production would start in November 2017 and the film would take 18 months to release.
On the challenges on adapting the novel, Blessy said, in the novel, Najeeb recollects his experience through soliloquy, which is easily conveyed through literary work, but it is difficult to depict on screen. The film's narrative is entirely different from the book. For example, in the latter half of the book, when arbab castigates Najeeb in Arabic, readers read it in Malayalam, whereas the film has to demonstrate how much the language distresses Najeeb. Unlike the book, the film cannot afford to be vague since viewers see everything on screen and may question the logic presented. For instance, the book says that Najeeb could not find a shadow under a stick, but there is a farm that can cast a shadow, "in a literary work, you don't have to address that because readers travel the route the writer takes them on". Moreover, the film has to show Najeeb's physical transformation. Above everything else, the film's visuals must surpass those imagined by the readers. Najeeb does not understands Arabic, the makers decided to avoid subtitles for those parts to provide viewers with the same experience as Najeeb. According to Prithviraj, "the film has this huge liberty of not having a language", as only about 20 percent of the film contains dialogues.
Prithviraj agreed to do the film while he was at the sets of Pokkiri Raja (2010) in 2008. Najeeb Muhammad from Benyamin's novel is based on a real-life person with the same name. Prithviraj said, although he is not a pious person, Najeeb has staunch focus on faith. There is a physical, psychological, and spiritual journey for the character. For three years, he interacts more with animals than humans, so he would "become" one among. For Najeeb's role, Blessy wanted an actor who can dedicate at least one-and-a-half years for the film, which Prithviraj agreed. Prithviraj had to gain and loss weight to show Najeeb's physical transformation on screen, he gained 98 kilograms for playing the character in the starting sequences of the film with a pot belly and had to loss weight to 67 kilograms by the end of the film. Having lost 31 kilograms, Prithviraj said he followed an unhealthy diet which he would not recommend anyone to follow. He blacked-out while filming a scene. There was always a doctor on call at the set.
As of 2015, no other actor beside Prithviraj was finalised. In 2016, Blessy said he is scouting for actors in Somalia and such places. In 2017, a casting call was released by the makers through social media inviting applicants for a young male and female and a middle-aged female. In February 2018, Amala Paul confirmed through social media that she is playing Sainu. Sainu, Najeeb's wife, is portrayed in different phases of her life. According to Blessy, the role would tap the potential of Amala, considering the roles she had done so far. Beside co-producing, Haitian actor Jimmy Jean-Louis played a major role as Ibrahim Khadiri. Omani actor Talib al Balushi played the role of Najeeb's boss. Rik Aby, a Sudanese actor based in the United Arab Emirates also played a role.
Although the film is set in Saudi Arabia, the production team was not granted permission to shoot there, hence they had to move to other countries. On his decision to shoot the film in 3D, Blessy said "the 3D technology will really help in elevating the overall mood. The desert wind, a small movement of the goat, the loneliness of Najeeb ... the 3D tool will help in capturing these emotions and transforming it to a different aesthetic level". The film's major scenes takes place in desert places. Principal photography began on 1 March 2018 with a customary pooja function. The first schedule began in Thiruvalla, Kerala, where flashback scenes of Najeeb's life before he arrived in Saudi Arabia was shot. At that time, the plan was to complete filming in 150 days spanning 18 months. That month, filming also took place at Muthalamada railway station in Palakkad border. The Kerala schedule was completed by April first week. About 25 percent of the film was finished, with major portions yet to be shot.
The second schedule, originally charted from March to early April 2020 in the Wadi Rum desert in Jordan, was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic in Jordan. Filming finally began on 16 March. However, Omani actor Talib al Balushi and his translator were quarantined, causing him to miss the shoot after Oman evacuated its citizens. Similarly, a Sudanese actor was quarantined, and some actors were not able to reach the location due to the cancellation of flights. Nevertheless, the shoot continued with Prithviraj. After Jordan initiated lockdown, Kerala chief minister directed NORKA to provide assistance through Indian embassy. Since international flights were cancelled, the Jordanian authorities allowed the crew to continue shooting while remaining isolated. After eight days of filming, they were forced to stop on 24 March, but they managed to obtain permission to shoot for another 17 days. However, the permission was revoked on 27 March after a curfew was imposed. Blessy then requested assistance from the Kerala government, through Kerala Film Chamber of Commerce, to repatriate them. They stayed idle for the next 32 days, during which Prithviraj further reduced his body mass. When restrictions eased, filming resumed in April last week and continued until 17 May. The 58-member crew, along with other Indian citizens, were repatriated by the Government of India as part of Vande Bharat Mission and reached India on 22 May. In their 70-day stay in the desert camp, they filmed for 25 days. Although filming was not finished there, crucial scenes were shot, which required them to return at a later date. Even with their original plan, they had to return for scenes featuring an American actor. About 50 percent of the film was completed with the schedule.
Filming was undergoing at the Sahara desert, Algeria in April 2022. As per their plan, they needed 40 days in Algeria and another 35 days in Jordan. Algerian schedule continued to May. In the same month, shooting happened at Wadi Rum, Jordan. Jordanian schedule was completed on 14 June, thus concluding the film's international schedules. Filming went to Ranni, Kerala on 22 June for the final schedule. Jail sequence was shot there on set. Filming in its entirety was wrapped up on 14 July 2022. K. U. Mohanan and Sunil K. S. were the cinematographers, Resul Pookutty was the sound designer, A. Sreekar Prasad was the editor, Stephy Zaviour was the costume designer, and Ranjith Ambady was the makeup artist. In October 2022, Prithviraj told to Variety that the film is undergoing post-production and is aiming for a film festival slot in 2023.
The original score and songs for the film were composed by A. R. Rahman. Rahman confirmed his involvement in the project during a press interaction in January 2018, marking his return to Malayalam cinema after having previously composed solely for Yoddha (1992). In November 2019, Rahman stated that he had finished recording a song by Vijay Yesudas, with visuals for the song having already been shot, and that he would soon record another song by Chinmayi. In May 2022, Rahman disclosed that he has not yet commenced composing the score but has completed individual songs. He characterized these songs as "mostly situational, more like a lullaby, lament-like, in addition to a love song. Even though I was supposed to do one song, I ended up doing three to four songs for the film".
During the promotion of Kaapa (2022) in December 2022, Prithviraj revealed that Aadujeevitham would premiere at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival if post-production work completes on time. In such a scenario, the film's worldwide theatrical release would be in the latter half of 2023. However, if the film is not able to make it to Cannes, it will premiere at the next major film festival. In April 2023, Deadline Hollywood released an unannounced trailer for the film. Blessy expressed displeasure with the incident, stating that while the trailer had been sent to agents for screening at film festivals and for business purposes, it was never intended for release to the general public. He said the post-production work on those clips were unfinished, such as color grading and music was only done on a keyboard. He disowned it being a theatrical release trailer. Even though, the same trailer was officially released by the production team shortly afterward.