Prithviraj Sukumaran exclusive interview: We wanted either Hans Zimmer or AR Rahman for The Goat Life - Hindustan Times

Prithviraj Sukumaran exclusive interview: We wanted either Hans Zimmer or AR Rahman for The Goat Life

Mar 20, 2024 03:53 PM IST

Prithviraj Sukumaran's survival drama The Goat Life is helmed by Blessy. In an exclusive chat, the actor says he is waiting for audience's response to the film.

When Aadujeevitham (The Goat Life) was announced in 2018, nearly a decade after director Blessy and Malayalam star Prithviraj Sukumaran had discussed it, there was palpable excitement. Based on the true story of Malayali immigrant Najeeb who went through a hellish experience in Saudi Arabia, The Goat Life is all set to release on March 28. Also read: Prithviraj Sukumaran says the success of Manjummel Boys, Premalu and Bramayugam paved the way for The Goat Life

Prithviraj Sukumaran’s The Goat Life is an adaptation of the Malayalam novel Aadujeevitham by Benyamin.
Prithviraj Sukumaran’s The Goat Life is an adaptation of the Malayalam novel Aadujeevitham by Benyamin.

Director Blessy spent 16 years of his life on this film and Malayalam star Prithviraj Sukumaran also travelled with him on this journey. The Aadujeevitham star underwent a strenuous physical transformation for the role, got stuck in Jordan with the team during the pandemic, and experienced the horrendous nightmare of a life that Najeeb had.

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Today, the movie is coming up for release and Prithviraj is eagerly waiting to see the audience response for the film. Here are excerpts from Prithviraj's exclusive interview with The Hindustan Times.

One of the things that struck me was – obviously not in exactly the same way as what Najeeb went through - but when you were stuck in Jordan due to Covid, was there a survival drama of your own happening over there? Did you find any parallels at that time?

The idea of potentially romanticizing us getting stuck there for the lockdown and making a comparison is quite tempting, but unfortunately no. I think a lot of people (in India) thought that we were stuck there with no food. Truth is we were in a lovely part of the world in a beautiful desert camp in luxury tents with unlimited food, playing cricket and you know, like just being a team. Yes, it was challenging as we had to stay there for three months and we didn’t know when we could come back. If somebody had told us, okay, you had to stay for three months we would have been mentally prepared, but suddenly people were talking about a possible lockdown for a year or year-and-a-half. Except for that there wasn’t really anything that was challenging for us. This is contrary to what Najeeb had to go through which was forceful confinement, slavery. And that was a human being pushed to his absolute limits, mentally, physically, emotionally. He survived all that and to be alive and to talk of that state is incredible. So, no comparisons there. As an actor, on the toughest of days, when going through the physical transformation and while shooting the film, I used to keep zoning out and thinking it’s so tough for me to play this character. I think there was a guiding force while I underwent the transformation and the efforts I put in for the film.

What attracted you to the script? Was it the fact that it was a never-seen-before survival drama?

It was the ultimate story about the resilience of the human spirit. There are many films that have been made on the above subject, but this manifestation of the same seemed all the more striking, disturbing, inspiring, all at the same time, because this is a life that someone really lived and is alive today. This is a lone man fighting against unbelievable odds, the elements (nature) against him. I just thought it was just an unbelievable human story. The book The Goat Life by Benyamin was a hit and as destiny would have it, Blessy managed to get its rights, and he thought I should play Najeeb. For me, it was a dream film in 2008-9 and when Blessy thought I am the one who should play Najeeb, it was like a huge stamp of approval for me as an actor.

But why did it take so long for the film to take off?

Even back in 2009, Blessy’s vision for the film was the same. And in 2000, it was impossible to pull off something at this scale in Malayalam cinema. We started shoot in 2018 and it remained a big challenge but not unthinkable. The Malayalam industry had evolved and revenue streams had proliferated. It took time to set up the production and make sure that we had a system in place which would allow us to shoot the film the way we wanted to shoot it. It still took us four-and-a-half years to complete it which wasn’t planned.

Prithviraj Sukumaran on his role in The Goat Life.
Prithviraj Sukumaran on his role in The Goat Life.

Director Blessy spent 16 years of his life on this film. Was The Goat Life life-changing for you?

When you talk of a life-changing experience, you usually talk of an experience of a shorter duration. I’ve been dreaming of doing this film. I’ve been ideating probably at a subconscious level about how I would approach this role and even now my mind unconsciously goes to Najeeb sometimes. For me, it’s not an experience – it’s a phase of life I have lived through. I’m sure I’m going to be richer as a man and as an actor, for having lived through this experience. How is it going to influence me? What does it mean to my life? I guess I’ll discover as life goes on.

You lost around 31 kgs for the role of Najeeb; you had to do this physical transformation not once but twice because of Covid and break in shoot. Were you dreading it the second time around?

In this case to get the look you just don’t eat. The idea was that I looked like somebody who does not have access to enough food, and was starving most of the time. The only way I could do that is to actually adopt that process, which means that my transformation was almost entirely based on fasting. At times, I used to fast for up to 72 hours. I would drink water and black coffee, but nothing else. When you push yourself that way, it no longer is a physical thing, it’s also mental. Humans are equipped to do two to three days of fasting. When you wake up the second day, your mind is telling you to just eat. And that is when the real challenge kicks in. The idea was to lose as much weight as I can but I think I shocked myself by losing 31 kgs. I was mentally prepared to lose so much weight once and I knew that it would take a toll on my health, my body. Doing it twice was unexpected but it happened naturally.

Prithviraj Sukumaran talks about AR Rahman working on The Goat Life.
Prithviraj Sukumaran talks about AR Rahman working on The Goat Life.

In Blessy’s films music plays a key role and, in this film, music is very important because it is just one man and the desert. Music is required to take the film to the next level. How did you decide AR Rahman was the person for this?

In 2009, I remember we had this conversation in my vanity van – we wanted either music director Hans Zimmer (Dune, Interstellar, Inception) or AR Rahman. And we actually thought we had a better chance of getting Hans Zimmer on board as Rahman had just won the Oscar and was in high demand. We mailed Hans Zimmer and they said they would be open to a meeting with us. Meanwhile, we also got a meeting with Rahman and we had a short 30-minute narration and he immediately said he was on board. I guess genius also comes with the ability to spot something special. Initially we were to have one song and the background score but now we have four songs. He has created an amazing score for the film. In fact, he came to the shooting spot in Jordan to experience that desert life – listening to the wind, the goats, etc. It’s so flattering to imagine that someone like AR Rahman, who I’m sure has 100 people waiting for him, would invest so much of his time and effort for one film. I think like all of us he must have sensed that this is such a special story. The songs are a smash hit in Kerala. But my favorite thing about the music in the film is the background score.

From what we have seen so far, it seems like The Goat Life could be the film that goes to the Oscars from India next year. Would you like an Oscar win?

Of course, we’ve thought about it! It was like how we wanted to work with Hans Zimmer and Lionsgate for international distribution for this film. We always thought that this film should travel internationally. We would love it if this film is India’s entry to the Academy Awards next year. And if we win an Oscar, it would be absolutely amazing. But if it is a choice between an Academy Award and this film becoming a global blockbuster then it is the latter for me. People around the world are showing interest in wanting to showcase the film now. I am hoping that once the film releases that the conversation around it grows organically. More than anything I truly hope that people around the world discover this film.

Prithviraj Sukumaran on people watching Malayalam content.
Prithviraj Sukumaran on people watching Malayalam content.

Do you think 2024 is really going to be the year when Malayalam cinema breaks all barriers? Malayalam films have been having a dream run since January.

Firstly, I am very thankful for what has been happening in 2024. Thankful to the audience for coming to the theatres to watch Malayalam content. Thankful to the filmmakers who made those films and everyone from the actors and the technicians to the producers. Because their success has potentially paved the way for our success as well. The interest in the next big Malayalam release, which is The Goat Life, is amazing because of the track record of Malayalam cinema over the past couple of months. But we would be doing a big disservice to the past and more importantly to the future. You would be doing a big disservice to all that has happened all that has led to this phase. And more importantly, be doing a big disservice to where we could take this. I am happy about this. I hope it is the beginning of a lot of things. I hope it is the beginning of a phase where we will eventually finally be able to put in place a proper distribution system for Malayalam cinema across the country and across the world.

This is your first film with director Blessy. What is the biggest takeaway that you’ve got from him? Since you’re also a director.

His absolute rock-hard conviction. When he decided to do this film, I don’t know how many people know this but he was the highest paid director in Malayalam cinema. He was the most coveted filmmaker in Malayalam. Every big star wanted to do at least at one film with him. And he had a whole host of producers and big stars. But he spent 16 years of his life on this film once he decided this is what he wants to make next.

Would you ever be able to direct a film like The Goat Life?

Never! I don’t have the kind of conviction Blessy has where he dedicated his life to this.

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