Goat Days: Novel and movie complement each other

Goat Days written by Benyamin and the movie based on that Adujeevitham (The Goat Life) directed by Blessey complement well with each other. There are definitely more details and nuances in the book but at the same time the movie brings both the protagonist’s family life in Kerala and the drudgery of the desert in Saudi Arabia visually more alive.   

One of the best aspects of the book for me was the crisp writing of Benyamin. The life of Najeeb in the desert is narrated in a racy manner making it a very easy read. Even slow readers can finish the book very fast. Najeeb’s struggles with rearing the goats and how he formed a bond is sketched in greater detail here in comparison with the movie.

For example in the novel there is a portion where a goat gives birth to its child right in the hands of Najeeb. Najeeb considers the baby goat as his son and names it Nabeel. Nabeel was the name he considered for his actual child if his wife had given birth to a male. She was pregnant when he left. Now he doesn’t know whom his wife delivered boy or girl. Still he believes it is a boy and proceeds to look after the baby goat as his own offspring.

He pampers the animal a lot. He even allows Nabeel to drink milk from his mother now and then which is a taboo in that place. If the owner of the goats comes to know of it Najeeb will have to face his wrath in the form of lashings and deprivation of food.  

There is also a hugely disturbing portion in the book where Nabeel’s genitals are cut off. In the place Najeeb worked only a few male goats are allowed to have their genitals intact. It might be a universal practice with all goat rearers in the world but Najeeb finds it hard to accept it for his little one.  

He tries his level best to save Nabeel by picking up some other goat for castration. But the Arab, his master, is a shrewd man with a great memory. He loses his patience and gives a tight kick to Najeeb. Najeeb begs the Arab not to cause any harm to that goat but in vain. The heartbreak of Najeeb is palpable.

The movie Aadujeevitham would have been even more engaging if director Blessey had included these scenes. However one area where the movie scores over the book is the Juxtaposition of Nabeel’s past life in Kerala backwaters and his present status of a wretched life. This juxtaposition added a lot to the movie because we get a thorough idea of how happy his earlier life was. In the book we do not see Najeeb remembering his wife so much.

The book also gives more clarity on why preservation of water is considered so important in that desert area. In the movie there is a scene where Prithviraj’s character uses water to clean himself after going to the toilet but his master kicks him for doing it, telling him to use stones instead of water. We feel it is so inhuman.

But while watching the movie we don’t initially understand why the Arab objected for the use of water for such a basic need. Book gives more clarity on this. Similarly we also don’t understand why the goats are taken for a walk every day in that scorching heat in spite of no grassland anywhere nearby. Actually this goat walking is meant to keep the animals active and healthy. If they are lazy their meat doesn’t taste good is something we come to know only after reading the book.   

The escape scenes of Najeeb, Hakim and his co worker Ibrahim Khadiri in the desert come much later in the book unlike the movie where it occupies almost the entire second half. Though this journey of theirs is heartbreaking it felt a little dragged in the movie. The space given to it in the book seemed right because after a point it gets repetitive.

Both the film and the book have their own advantages and disadvantages. Keeping aside the stretched second half in the movie, director Blessey and actor Prithviraj Sukumaran deserve a huge appreciation for a gritty survival drama that makes you think about the plight of so many not so educated men and women who become easy target in those unknown lands.

If no other man or woman is fooled to slavery in this way ever again, the purpose of both the book and the movie will be served. Hope the Governments of both lands take notice. The movie should have come much earlier considering the huge success of the novel (more than 100 reprints in the Malayalam original). Thanks Najeeb, Thanks Benyamin, Thanks Blessey and Thanks Prithviraj Sukumaran.

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