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Malayalam movie Aadujeevitham: Unrealistic, disservice to pastoralists

By Rosamma Thomas* 

The Malayalam movie 'Aadujeevitham' (Goat Life), currently screening in movie theatres in Kerala, has received positive reviews and was featured also on the website of the British Broadcasting Corporation. The story is based on a 2008 novel by Benyamin, and relates the real-life story of a job-seeker from Kerala tricked into working in slave conditions in a goat farm in Saudi Arabia.
Reading several positive reviews and hearing good things about the film from friends, I too went to the theatre after a long time to watch this movie. It left me rather disturbed that the movie was so unrealistic – the goats are led to pasture, but among vast and endless sand dunes. There is hardly any greenery at all in the film, except in the mirages the characters chase while attempting to escape, or the one oasis that they stop at.
I have worked among pastoralists in Rajasthan, and I know that sheep and goat herders lead the flocks to pasture – they would not venture to lead them on long walks through sand dunes, where there is nothing for the animals to eat or drink. 
That was not all that was not quite right with this film – the idyllic settings of the home location of the lead character – the unpolluted river, teeming with fish, in which he swims with his young wife, the nurturing, loving, social circle that he is part of, when at home in Kerala – these too contrast starkly with the savage conditions of the Saudi Arabian desert, where only men ever feature. The Saudi man who nabs the two young Kerala men from the airport, to force them into slavery, the Malayali characters note, smells foul.
There are no pastoral communities in Kerala, and the lack of exposure to that way of life is evident in the film
The saving grace here is that the characters from Kerala are also Muslim. If they were Hindu, this would have been a rank case of communal stereotyping. There are no pastoral communities in Kerala, and the lack of exposure to that way of life, I think, is evident in the film. 
That pastoralism is sustainable, that it is a mode of existence that creates bonds between animals and humans that are akin to family ties; that a rich culture of pastoralism exists, and that people who live with animals are not necessarily savage and divorced from culture, as depicted in the film, is perhaps not widely recognized in the film-viewing community of Kerala. One character in the film, a North Indian who speaks Hindi and has long served the animals, is asked his name, and responds that he has forgotten!
The film is nearly three hours long, and for much of its duration the three characters – two Kerala men and an African, are seen wading across sand dunes, barely managing to stay alive. What surprised me was that of the nearly 100 viewers in the theatre, not one walked out.
--- 
*Freelance journalist

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