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Aadujeevitham: Dear Prithviraj and Blessy, the subtitle glitch was an accidental blessing for your movie

Here is my personal account of how the subtitle glitch helped me experience director Blessy's Aadujeevitham, starring Prithviraj, in a profound way.

Aadujeevitham: Dear Prithviraj and Blessy, the subtitle glitch was an accidental blessing for your movie
Prithviraj in Aadujeevitham

Last Updated: 02.51 PM, Mar 29, 2024


Director Blessy's ambitious film Aadujeevitham (The Goat Life) opened in cinemas worldwide to glowing reviews. However, the film has garnered a slew of complaints over a glitch: the original Malayalam movie played without subtitles. Many raised the issue on social media, sending the filmmakers into firefighting mode to fix the glitch and ensure a seamless experience for non-Malayali audiences across the country.

As I write today, about 24 hours after the first screening of Aadujeevitham, the producers seem to have successfully resolved the issue. The subtitles are now available in the Malayalam version, making it more accessible to people who don't speak or understand the language. And this technical correction must help the film fare better at the box office, as it seems to have already made quite an impression on audiences who have seen it so far, including yours truly.

Aadujeevitham's subtitle glitch amplified the emotional connection

I was among the fortunate audiences who had the opportunity to watch Aadujeevitham without the interference of subtitles. Yes, in some movies, subtitles interfere with the way we experience them. I speak and understand Malayalam very well, so my reliance on subtitles is limited when enjoying Malayalam movies. However, I was taken aback when there were no subtitles for most of the Arabic dialogue in Aadujeevitham.

It took a few minutes for me to grasp this matter, as I felt a little irked by this technical oversight. But soon, I realised that it was a deliberate design to give the audience a very subjective experience of the principal characters. Like Najeeb Mohammed (Prithviraj Sukumaran) and Hakeem (KR Gokul), we are also clueless about what's being asked of them by Khafeel (Talib Al Balushi). Neither the Malayali characters on the screen nor the Malayalis in the audience can decipher Khafeel's orders, putting us in the very shoes of Najeeb and Hakeem. It instills a nagging suspicion in us, which must have been the same for Najeeb and Hakeem, that something is not right. But with seemingly no takers for them in the strange land, Najeeb and Hakeem take a leap of faith by hopping into the back of Khafeel's filthy pickup truck.

Let's digress for a moment and consider this question: how could Najeeb and Hakeem, if given a chance, justify getting into a stranger's van? Isn't 'stranger danger' the first lesson we teach our children? How could two fully grown men make such a grave mistake?

The only possible explanation is that people like Najeeb and Hakeem were fed such fantasy stories about life in the Gulf and the endless opportunities for financial growth there: big buildings, a rich lifestyle, and grand feasts. They must have imagined the Gulf as this utopian world, promising nothing but happiness. They probably thought that even getting into a van with a total stranger would lead them to the destination of great riches. In Kerala, working in the Gulf is a matter of extreme pride, and people who lived there probably hid the reality, exaggerating the living conditions and solidifying the Gulf's utopian illusion among their family and friends back home.

Aadujeevitham transcends language barriers


Returning to our main topic, the lack of subtitles for Arabic dialogues in the carefully selected scenes helps us experience the anxiety of Najeeb and Hakeem. It also prompts us to use our imagination regarding what Khafeel and his friends tell Najeeb. We may not know the exact words, but we can grasp that the lives of the protagonists took a wrong turn and are going downhill from here.

The absence of language to facilitate our journey into the narration allows us to connect spiritually and emotionally with the protagonist's ordeal. And that's not something that often happens because words sometimes deny us the opportunity to experience and empathize with the characters in profound ways.

I am fully convinced that the lack of subtitles allowed me to invest and immerse myself in Aadujeevitham in a way that I might not have otherwise. I was compelled to feel the misery of Najeeb, the helplessness of Hakeem, and the insurmountable pain of their families back in Kerala. I was also able to imagine the cruelty of the likes of Khafeel and their callous indifference to human lives and suffering.

As I can't read Malayalam, I didn't understand what was exchanged between Khafeel and his accomplice after luring a famished Najeeb with Kuboos. Perhaps Khafeel said something about how a hungry stomach strips a man of his self-respect, or how easy it is to enslave a man with a promise of a steady supply of bread. However, my imagination served me better than whatever words Blessy might have penned for that character in that scene.

Aadujeevitham is one of those films, particularly the desert sequences, that needs to be experienced without the barrier of language. Then, it becomes a grand exercise in empathy, which is the main objective of storytelling.

Cinema is an audio and visual medium, not a medium of language alone; its power lies in its ability to transcend linguistic barriers and connect with audiences on a universal level through storytelling, emotion, and imagery. And Aadujeevitham achieved that both deliberately and accidentally, thanks to a glitch.