John Abraham was born in Changanacherry in 1937. He completed his studies in Kottayam staying with his grandfather. It was him who nurtured Abraham's talent in early days. After completing his degree in economics from Marthoma College, Thiruvalla, he worked as an insurance agent in Bellary. After that he joined the FTII, Pune and was trained by Ritwik Ghatak. Abraham graduated out of the FTII with gold medals in screenwriting and film direction. He entered the film industry working as an assistant director to Mani Kaul for the film Uski Roti (1969, Hindi). He has worked for some Hindi projects that was shot in Kerala, but none were released. Abraham's first attempt in direction came in 1967 named Vidyarthikale Ithile Ithile. It was the Tamil film Agraharathil Kazhuthai (1977) that elevated Abraham to fame.
Considered an avant-garde film director and writer, he completed only four films, namely Vidyarthikale Ithile Ithile (1972), Agraharathil Kazhuthai (1977, Tamil), Cheriachante Krurakrithyangal (1979, Malayalam) and Amma Ariyan (1986, Malayalam), all four written and directed by him.
It was under the leadership of Abraham that Odessa Collective came into existence in 1984 with a street drama in Fort Kochi named Nayakali (The game of dogs). Odessa was an attempt by a group of movie enthusiasts to change the history of film production and distribution by making it a collaborative effort with the public and thus act as an empowering and liberating medium. For the financing of thee first film produced by Odessa, John and his friends traveled through villages and collected money from the general public. Odessa also collected funds for the film by screening Charlie Chaplin's The Kid. The film, Amma Ariyan (Report to mother) (1986) was exhibited across the state of Kerala on a non-commercial basis. John Abraham has a cult following in his home state of Kerala because of his anarchic way of life, and those who were close to him swear by his humanist qualities. He was convinced of the value of using the power of cinema to change society.
He started shooting a documentary based on the life of E.M.S. Namboodiripad, but never completed it.
The media called him Otttayan (The Lone Tusker). John Abraham attained mythical proportions even during his short life span, living a nomadic existence, who rebelled all the established ways. He was also an alcoholic, and died after falling from the rooftop in Calicut on 31 May 1987. John was a romantic artist, who believed that cinema could be used as an effective tool for social changes. He tried to by-pass the tyranny of market forces by establishing direct relationship with the people. No wonder that the man who made unparalleled films like Agraharathil Kazhuthai and Amma Ariyan was more acceptable among the illiterate villagers than the intelligentsia of Kerala. 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.