The Goat Life: A Cinematic Journey of Dedication and Brilliance

Discover the Epic Story Behind the Making of this Groundbreaking Film

The director spent 16 years on a single film. The shoot lasted six years, with 24 days dedicated to filming just one scene. The lead actor, Prithviraj Sukumaran, lost 35 kilos for his role, undergoing a transformation that made his mother cry. “The Goat Life” is not just a movie but an austerity or devotional practice for its artisans. However, it has succeeded in burning the audience’s minds like a hot desert wind by portraying a goatherd’s life.

Overcoming Doubts and Criticism

When film lovers heard that Benjamin’s famous novel “Goat Days” was being adapted for the big screen, doubts arose about whether a Malayali filmmaker could capture the visuals with the beauty demanded by Hollywood standards. Social media criticism suggested that a good novel could become a mere puddle. But after watching the movie, all those doubts will disappear. It takes extraordinary courage to reach out to those who have read the novel and leave it imprinted in their minds with the visual language of the same work. Director Blessy has succeeded in this endeavor. The audience leaves the film, wiping their eyes and applauding. Undoubtedly, 2024 was a lucky year for Malayalam cinema, with “Goat Life” emerging as another super hit that was a must-watch for lovers of good movies.

Blessy and Prithviraj can shake hands for their achievements. After the 2013 film “Kalimannu,” director Blessy did not release another film for 14 years as he worked tirelessly on “The Goat Life.” His previous film, which depicted the birth of actress Shwetha Menon, was controversial and failed at the box office. It’s not just a social media joke that Blessy’s next film was completed when Shwetha Menon’s child, born that day, got to SSLC. His dedication to perfecting a film is evident here. So far, he has directed different films like “Vishyam,” “Thanmatra,” “Palunku,” “Kolkata News,” “Bhramaram,” and “Pranaam.” But one film, “The Goat Life,” was enough to mark Blessy’s career.

Visual Brilliance and Performances

In the jump-cut scene from the tanker water overflowing in the desert to the paddy field in Aratupuzha, we witness Blessy’s genius. The scene where vultures attack Najeeb amid the sandstorm’s hum in the desert showcases Blessy’s directorial brilliance. “Sreekar Prasad’s camera work is so intense, capturing the desert ecosystem in an extreme setting. It encompasses dunes, oases, mirages, sandstorms, and venomous snakes. By the time the first half is over, the audience’s throats will be dry.”

Earlier, news broke that Prithviraj’s mother, Mallika Sukumaran, cried when she saw her son weighing just 35 kg for the role of Najeeb. Each audience member who watches the film will go through that feeling. Prithviraj’s portrayal of Najeeb is very realistic. He transforms from a happy Najeeb landing in the Gulf to an unrecognizable enslaved person. His hair and beard are braided and thrown among the sheep, his bones lean, his teeth red and dull, and his eyes tired. The audience will never think that Najeeb is Prithviraj! One must watch Prithviraj’s performance in the scene where he drinks water from a goat bowl, nearly dying of thirst. Also, when he bathes naked on the day, Arbab goes out, and when his friend dies in the desert. Actors who carry a film with such mad passion are rare.

This film is undoubtedly an international production from Malayalam cinema. It can be expected that “The Goat Life” will also reach the Oscars. Rasul Pookkutty, A.R. Rahman best supported Blessy’s directorial excellence. Rahman’s song “Perione Rahmane” is a prayer and a cry in our hearts. Rasul Pookkutty’s sound mixing is also praiseworthy, from raindrops in the countryside to the crawling of sand snakes.

Interpreting The Goat Life: Film vs. Novel Experience

Jimmy Jean-Louis, as Najeeb’s guide, Ibrahim Kadiri, gets applause from the audience. The film is a breakthrough for KR Gokul, who played Hakeem. That character is the wonder of this movie. Amala Paul, as Zainu, Najeeb’s wife, is good in only a few scenes.

Adapting a famous novel, described as Kerala’s biggest-selling literary work after Changampuzha’s “Ramanan,” is a huge responsibility and challenge. There will inevitably be a discussion about whether the novel has done justice. When Adoor Gopalakrishnan adapted Zakaria’s story “Bhaskarapatelar and My Life” as “Swaraham,” controversies arose, including Zakaria claiming it did not do justice to his story. Here, the film does about 75 percent justice to Benjamin’s novel “Adu Jeevitham.”

The movie does not copy the novel verbatim. The director has the freedom to take and discard elements as desired. Fundamental cinema is the director’s art. But here, Blessy has succeeded in bringing Benjamin’s novel to new heights without losing its power. However, if asked whether the movie or the novel provides the best entertainment experience, this writer would vote.

The film has yet to reach the level of creative pleasure that the novel provides. Najeeb’s survival is given importance in the movie. At the same time, in the novel, Najeeb’s intense faith in God gives him the indomitable desire to live despite suffering. In the novel, Najeeb promises God he will never die by hand. Unable to bear the pain, Najeeb once said to God, “Allah, I swore by You and Your law that I would never die myself. But you don’t mind letting Arbab kill me. Let me die by Arbab’s hand. I can’t continue in this pain anymore.”

Adapting The Goat Life: A Novel to Film Transition

This belief in God often makes Najeeb not feel bad for anyone. Najeeb is disappointed when a Pakistani trailer driver who could have saved him passed by without a word. He curses him but later regrets it, thinking it is because of his incompetence. Najeeb’s autobiography reflects this spiritual direction: “O Merciful Allah, it is my destiny to go through the hard days you have given me. Please forgive me for hating an innocent man and cursing in my heart for that.” Najeeb’s firmness of faith is confined to one song and little else in the movie.

Similarly, one of the most spectacular scenes in the novel, where the goat-like Najeeb has sex with an actual goat in the cold, is skipped in the film. It was the part where fans were waiting to see how Blessy would portray it. But there are non-fictional scenes in the film, including a liplock between Najeeb and his wife. Also missing is the most important scene in the novel, when the brutal Arab cowers under a table during desert thunder and rain.

Again, the director’s job is to refrain from copying the novel verbatim. In the novel, Najeeb’s internal conflicts are clear to the audience. Still, it cannot be said like a documentary in a film. Instead, it should be understood through visuals, and Blessy succeeds 75 percent of the time in that task. Despite its limitations and shortcomings, “The Goat Life” is a must-watch movie.

Siddharth Menon

Siddharth Menon is a passionate Entertainment Reporter at IndiaFocus, specializing in the captivating worlds of Cinema, Fashion, and Lifestyle. With a keen eye for the latest trends and a profound… More »

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