Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Amma Ariyan by Manuvilsan, Rajmohan

[Re-reading John Abraham's classic Amma Ariyan 17 years after its production, at a time when the foul smell of decaying 'political' movements become unbearable.]
Purushan decides to go to Delhi for his research. His mother sees him off with a condition that he should write to her wherever he is. During his journey, by chance he finds a dead body, which was familiar, but unidentifiable to him. Later he and his friends identifies it as Hari's, who committed suicide, and decide to travel to Kochi to inform Hari's mother about his death. During the course of journey this group of messengers become a crowd and finally informs Hari's mother about his death. This is how John Abraham's Amma Ariyan can be briefed. The film is in the form of a letter by Purushan to his mother.
Interpreting metaphors
The metaphors used by John in Amma Ariyan are powerful, but often obscure. The dead body, which Purushan witnessed by chance and later, brings together like-minded people to form a crowd requires to be interpreted. The other and perhaps the most important metaphor that needs interpretation is 'Mother'. Even though throughout the course of the film, each individual member joins the crowd after informing their respective mothers, two mothers stands out in the film. The film unfurls in the form of a letter to Purushan's mother who sees off her son by urging him to write letter to her, wherever he may be. The other mother, the mother of Hari who commits suicide is the destination of the crowd. While one among them is anxious to know about her son's journey through the torrid times, the other mother foresees her son's suicide, while almost all the mothers are seen worried about the youth of that time, succumbing into suicide. John's film starts with a mother's wish to know about her son and ends where another mother's dreams of her son burn down. The crowd that is formed for the mission of informing Hari's mother about his death too requires interpretation. The fate of this crowd after accomplishing their mission, which John left untold, would also be an interesting topic to be discussed. This article doesn't intent to be merely an appreciation of the aesthetics of the film. The main focus is on the three important metaphors pointed out, the dead body, mother and the crowd. It is also felt worth to discuss the relevance of this film even almost two decades after its production.
Perhaps no other films in Kerala could have been the topic of discussion, except for its content, as Amma Ariyan. The way the film was made, the way he collected the funds for it, arguments, counter-arguments, scandals and so many other clich├ęs were discussed extensively. But certain crucial questions were left unanswered. 'Who was informed?', 'What was informed?', 'Who informed?'. From an exterior view of the film, it can be said that 'Mother was informed', 'she was informed about her son's death' and 'the crowd informed her'.
Mothers of Hari, Purushan, Baletten and all the members of the crowd are shown in this film with considerable importance. As mother becomes a common metaphor in this film, we could term them together as Nation and the children of these mothers could be termed citizens. The family that houses the Nation and its citizens thus can be termed as the system. Often members of this system try to rebel and move out of it. The Nation desires to know about these members who walk out of the system, anxious to know what happened to them after their rebellious exit.
The crowd that sprouted around Hari's dead body, after identifying it takes up the mission of informing this death to his mother. When each individual members of the crowd identify their mission and later it becomes a collective mission, the crowd turns out to be a movement.
It is interesting to notice that the crowd that is formed for this mission never enquires about the reason behind Hari's suicide. The only reality before them is the fact that Hari is dead. The crowd identifies their mission as just passing on the information of Hari's death to his mother. But, by the end when the crowd reaches Hari's mother, we understand that she already knew or at least she was expecting this news at any time.
Who are these apolitical intellectuals?
Otto Rene Castillo's* famous words are quoted at a point during the course of the film:
'One day the apolitical intellectuals of my country will be interrogated by the simplest of our people. They will be asked what they did when their nation died out slowly, like a sweet fire small and alone...'
These words deliberately quoted in the film by John may be the essence of this film, which make this film relevant even today.
The formation of a class of apolitical intelligentsia in a democratic system is the biggest threat to the root of this system. Politics for democracy is synonymous to oxygen for life. When the philosophy of an intellectual turns out to be apolitical, his action results in the very destruction of a democratic system.
By the end of the film, just after the crowd informs Hari's mother about his death, the official messengers within the system, the police reach there and convey the same piece of information to the mother. The mother, the nation expects this tragic news at any moment about her rebellious child. But is that all the information that the mother expects from these messengers? Hari, the rebellious citizen, who walked out of the system, possibly to recast the system, might have committed suicide, accepting failure in his mission, or might have died like a brave soldier or his death, might even be a murder. The reason for this death, which the crowd failed to probe and find out, is politics in a system. The crowd that never bothered about this vital issue is not a movement capable to act as the backbone of a system but just a crowd of apolitical individuals. This crowd doesn't succeed in finding out the reasons for the decay of the system, but finally starts decaying themselves. It's not just such a mob that should emerge out of this system, but politically conscious movements. These movements are not destined to bear the burden of dead bodies of 'martyrs', who commits suicide. Their mission should be to probe into the reasons behind these suicides.
In the film, the mothers who react to the news of death of Hari are shown worried and sad about the youth moving towards self-destruction. The Nation too grieves the death of its citizen. In other words citizens themselves make the entity called the Nation, it's his duty to perpetuate the Nation. Hari's death may be a tiny isolated flame, but it has the potential to grow into an inferno, which would set ablaze the Nation itself. This alarming truth is seen repeatedly in History books. Hence the Nation desires to know about the reasons behind the decay of the system. But the apolitical intelligentsia, who never bothers to probe these reasons, one day, would definitely be questioned by the poorest of the poor. This quotation used by John Abraham could be a prophecy about that day, the day, which this crowd of apolitical intelligentsia would be questioned.
Should John be questioned?
The name, John Abraham was often used in Kerala during his lifetime for just to be rejected. Now, for us it is irrelevant to argue whether John was a prophet or just a lunatic. For us it is important to find out whether or not to question John as the director of the film 'Amma Ariyan', which puts forth very basic questions about the society that we represent. Some said that John here suggested a new movement at a period when all the ideological movements were seen decaying and spreading its dirty odour more and more day by day. Some others said that John hinted the meaninglessness of all movements by showing the police passing on the information effortlessly to the mother, while the crowd that kept aside all their jobs and became a movement and took a lot of effort to do the same. Even some people interpreted this film as the call for a people's movement as a parallel to the existing system. Doesn't it remind the good old story of four blind men trying to experience the shape of an elephant? Who among them could understand the real shape? Or was the reality something else?
A piece of art becomes noble when its importance extends from present to the future, when the artist turns out to be a prophet. John too was a prophet. He prophesied the pathetic spectacle of today, where apolitical crowds labelled 'political parties' join together in a procession carrying burdens of dead bodies termed 'martyrs', forgetting reasons and ideologies, believing that the petty knowledge they procured during this journey towards perdition as ultimate truths, never bothering about the real politics of this system, continuing this journey with mere the information of the death of a citizen to the Nation. It would also be interesting to find out the fate of the crowd after accomplishing their mission, which John left for our judgement. We understand that this crowd never dispersed after accomplishing their mission. These crowds found out more and more dead bodies like that of Hari's and are still continuing their procession carrying these burdens. It could even be concluded that a movement's birth itself coincides with the identification of a dead body. For this movement to gain momentum a crowd is formed. A dead body not only means that the individual is dead but also acts as a pointer towards number of truths, the ideas, dreams, aspirations and struggle the individual had undergone during his life time, which these crowds never try to understand.
Should John be questioned? Who have the right to question him?
Kahlil Gibran says: 'Lunacy is the first step towards unselfishness. Be insane and then tell us about what you see there inside that veil.'
John too does the same. His thoughts are becoming more and more important in this torrid period, when the death traps of globalisation wait for more and more Haris. Political parties of today have degraded to be just news agencies to report their death. The need of today is not death reports that attract more and more such crowds. The Nation would definitely get the news of the death of her citizen even without the help of this crowd. This news would evoke nothing more than a tear drop from the mother. The mother never understands that she too is jailed by the same rotten system, which made her son commit suicide.
Note - Otto Rene Castillo, born in 1936, was a Guatemalan revolutionary, a guerilla fighter, and a poet. Following the 1954 CIA-sponsored coup that overthrew the democratic Arbenz government, Castillo went into exile in El Salvador, where he met Roque Dalton and other writers who helped him publish his early works. When the dictator Armas died in 1957 he returned to Guatemala and in 1959 went to the German Democratic Republic to study, where he received a Masters degree. Castillo returned to Guatemala in 1964 and became active in the Workers Party, founded the Experimental Theater of the Capital City Municipality, and wrote and published numerous poems. That same year, he was arrested but managed to escape, going into exile once again, this time in Europe. Later that year he went back to Guatemala secretly and joined one of the armed guerilla movements operating in the Zacapa Mountains. In 1967, Castillo and other revolutionary fighters were captured; he, along with his comrades and some local campesinos, were brutally tortured and then burned alive.


Dipyaman said...

Is there anyway I can get a DVD copy of the film. I have seen it years ago in the Kolkata Film Festival, but never could manage to get a copy of the film. please let me know...

skar said...

Now we ( Amma Ariyan Collective ) Planning to Digitalize the film AMMA ARIYAN
And screening by the network .
If any one interest to join Pl contect
Mob No. 9633278439