“It was a test of endurance and resolve,” says film director Blessy.The award-winning film director and his team including the lead actor Prithviraj, who were all stranded in Jordan during the second schedule of the shooting of Aadujeevitham, returned to Kerala today.
Speaking on the phone from his house where he is in quarantine, Blessy says the shooting of the adaptation of Benyamin’s famous novel of the same novel with Prithviraj in the lead role of Najeeb, also turned out to be a test of character and fortitude, much like the story of Najeeb, a migrant labourer from Kerala who was abused and imprisoned by his employer in a desolate goat farm in Saudi Arabia.
Wadi Rum was main location and Blessy says the ancient valley and the hills, sculpted by rocks and water, gave him the feel of a place of worship. “Many civilisations had flourished here and we felt we were working in a hallowed spot. Although there was a break in shooting after a week, we were able to get permission to shoot for another 17 days, thanks to the intervention of Sanal Kumar, a Malayali entrepreneur. That we were able to shoot for nearly 25 days was our biggest achievement. Raju had lost nearly 30 kg to play Najeeb and it would have been really tough on him if we had to make him go through that again. Fortunately,we were able to shoot the main portions showing Najeeb’s trials and tribulations in the desert. Now, we we will need one schedule to complete the film,” says Blessy.
The team reached Amman on March 9 and shooting was to begin on March 16 at Wadi Rum in southern Jordan, about 400-450 km from Amman, the capital of Jordan. Thalib Al Balushi, the Omani actor who plays Najeeb’s boss, however, landed in Amman only on March 16 and he was quarantined. “We had begun shooting Prthviraj’s scenes. By the times, major cities all around the world was shutting down and Oman decided to evacuate their citizens from Jordan without any air charges and so the Omani actor had to leave without a single shot being filmed. In the same way, a Sudani actor from Abu Dhabi was also quarantied. We had finished a week of shooting when the government wanted us to stop the work,” recounts Blessy.
The team had planned to return by the first week of April. When it was clear that they might be stuck in Jordan for a longer period of time, there was an initial sense of gloom and desperation. “But I never let myself be caught in that sense of desperation tough I knew each delay was a drag on the budget. When it became clear that we were going to staying there for some time, we decided to make the best of the situation. So Good Friday was observed and even the path of the cross was enacted with improvised objects and we celebrated Easter too. Vishu was celebrated with fervour and the art department guys made konna flowers from cloth and made semiya payasam. By the time we were packing up, the Jordanians in the team had begun to semiya payam themselves,” says Blessy, laughing.
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He also recalls how the enterprising members of the art department improvised a cricket bat from an wooden plank and stitched together a cricket ball with the straps of their footwear. “Once, we accepted the situation, we knew we would have to wait it out. All of us including Raju (Prithviraj) stayed in one camp, ate the same food and motivated each them other with songs and games,” he adds.
Moreover, he says that through the period he found strength in reading the Book of Job portion from the Bible. “Imagine being stranded for 70 days with 58 people with no idea of when we would be able to return to India!” he says. As he injured his hand in Jordan, Blessy was allowed to go home and be in quarantine.
Blessy plans to complete the rest of the shooting in Sahara and then to Jordan to complete the film.
Scripted by Blessy himself, the film’s sound designer is Resul Pookutty, cinematographer is K U Mohanan and film editor is Sreekar Prasad. AR Rahman composes for a Malayalam film after a long interval. Vijay Yesudas and Chinmayi have sung for the film.