Wednesday, October 10, 2007

John Abraham - A Biography (Source -

[John receives the Kerala State award for his film 'Cheriyachante Kroora Kruthyangal' from the then Chief Minister E K Nayanar.]

John Abraham is recognised as a genius in Malayalam cinema. He made his mark with the Tamil film Agraharathil Kazhuthai, but is possibly remembered most for his efforts in starting a people's cinema movement called Odessa.
He was born in July 1937 to V.T. Abraham and Saramma. Though his parents were from central Kerala, he was born in Kunnamkulam, Thrissur District. This happened because his father was in hiding since he was being hunted for his underground political activities. John had three sisters and a brother. His childhood and primary education were in Kuttanad and school education in different schools including CMS School, Kottayam, Keezhillam School, and MD Seminary High School, Kottayam. His college education was in CMS College, Kottayam, and Mar Thoma College, Thiruvalla, from where he graduated in Economics. After teaching in tutorial colleges for some time, he joined the University of Dharwar for post graduate studies. But he got a job as a clerk in the Life Insurance Corporation at Coimbatore before he could complete his studies, which he accepted.
It was while he was working there that he got admission in the Film and Television Institute of India. There he became acquainted with the classic films of the world, and also with Ritwick Ghattak, which kindled the cinematic genius in him. He passed out in 1969 with a Gold Medal.
John worked with Mani Kaul for the film Uski Roti. Meanwhile, he also directed a documentary on the Himalayas for the Films Division. After Uski Roti, he returned penniless to Madras (Chennai). On being prompted by Azad, he worked for the Malayalam film Vidyarthikale Ithile Ithile, which was not at all his kind of film. Along with Zachariah, he prepared the script for a film that was named Joseph enna Purohitan, but it was never produced. His next film, Agraharathil Kazhuthai, came out in 1978. Although the film was banned by the Tamil Nadu government, it won the Best Regional Film award of the Government of India. His next film was based on life in Kuttanad - Cheriyachante Kroorakrityangal - which was released in 1980, and attracted considerable attention. He started shooting a documentary based on the life of E.M.S. Namboodiripad, but never completed it.
For some time after this, he wandered in Kerala and other states with incomplete scripts and ideas. He published a few stories, and staged street plays like Chennaykkal, Chennaykkal and Naykkali. During this period, he tried to make a cinema based on the Kayyoor struggle, but that too did not fructify. But he produced a documentary film named Kaliyattom during this period.
He and some other young people formed Odessa Movies to counter the commercialisation of cinema. They collected small contributions from the public and produced the film Amma Ariyan. The film was shown to audiences without any charge. This was one of the films that was most discussed at the International Film Festival of India in Delhi in 1986. In a sense, this is a predecessor to movements like Creative Commons that try to break the stranglehold of copyright laws.
John Abraham died tragically when he fell from a building on May 30, 1987. He has left behind a number of complete and incomplete scripts. A collection of his stories had been published under the title Nerchakkozhi. Another collection of his stories has been published posthumously under the title John Abrahaminte Kathakal by Pakshikkottam Books, Thiruvananthapuram, in 1993.

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