Tuesday, December 13, 2022 at 7:30pm
John Abraham's Amma Ariyan

361 Stagg Street, Suite 407, Brooklyn

Amma Ariyan (Report to Mother), John Abraham, 1986, digital projection, 115 mins

“John, Ghatak, Tarkovsky—we shall fight, we shall win!” This chant, among many, was on the lips of striking students in 2015 at the Film and Television Institute of India. They were protesting the school’s new leadership and, by extension, the insidious creep of commercialization and nationalism into their curriculum. While auteurs like Ritwik Ghatak and Andrei Tarkovsky might be familiar to American cineastes, the first name in the rallying cry, John Abraham, a key figure of Malayalam cinema, is comparatively little-known stateside. Though he passed away at age 49, and made only four features, his influence clearly endures among a new generation, for whom he provides a model of truly independent filmmaking.

This evening at Light Industry we will be screening Abraham’s final and arguably greatest work, Amma Ariyan, seen here in a recent preservation undertaken by the National Film Archive of India. The movie follows a disconsolate protagonist who, after encountering the dead body of a Naxalite musician on the roadside, journeys to visit the young man’s mother and inform her of his death. What is revealed, in the course of this peregrination, is a portrait of Kerala, its political past and present (in a trans-historical rhyme with the more recent NFII struggle, for instance, we see organizers fighting the privatization of medical colleges). It was also a work produced completely outside the economic apparatus of the dominant film industry, financed instead by collecting small contributions from communities throughout the region at screenings put on by the Odessa film collective, which Abraham helped found.

“This film,” wrote Abraham, “does not follow any convention or form that has already been followed until now. So, the characters in the film are not imaginary, but contextual. In other words, characters appear depending on the context. The film is structured as chapters in the form of reports. These reports can be in the form of the perspective of a character. In another context, it could be from the perspective of the event itself. Or else from the perspective of the director. This is not a unique style. Objectivity becomes important only on very few occasions. On all other occasions, I have tried to express my ‘subjective outlook’ through the visuals. For example, apart from dialogues, I have used my own commentary, and on occasions the monologues of characters that express their ‘subjective outlook.’

I have deployed realism in this film following the concept of musical symphony—i.e., ‘music and counterpoint.’ The dialectics of two beams with different music—that is the basis of realism in the film.

The concept of time used in this film is more dynamic than the conventional concept about time. Space/where it happens is not a concern, because it has a ‘time concept’ that is universal, if you may call it so. I have tried reconstructing some events that took place during certain historical periods—one event from 1972, another from 1981, etc. As things were portrayed in a simple manner, I never had the fear that it would fail to communicate. Nobody would say ‘I didn’t understand the film,’ though it may not go down well with a few.”

Tickets - Pay what you can ($10 suggested donation), available at door.

Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 7pm. No entry 10 minutes after start of show.