From in front to behind the camera

Malayalam actor Kollam Ajith, who has acted in more than 500 films, makes his debut as a director, with Calling Bell, a story about a crook

In the first scene of Calling Bell, a thief, Qasim Bhai, played by Kollam Ajith, breaks open a locker of a private bank, takes the money and flees. But alarms are triggered and the police are able to track him down through the cyber cell. They give chase.

Qasim runs into a building, in which there are several apartments. He checks door after door, but they are all locked. Finally, one is open and he enters and shuts the door. There seems to be nobody inside, but there is a sound of water falling in the bathroom. Qasim tiptoes in and sees that the tap is, indeed, open, but the bathroom is empty. Suddenly, the action stops and there is a message on the screen: ‘Some people are dying because of a lack of one drop of water. Water is precious. Do not waste it.’

“Throughout the film, I have placed similar messages,” says director Ajith. The subjects include the wastage of electricity, the dangers of alcohol and smoking, and the evils of dowry and casteism. “This is the first time in a mainstream film that such a method has been used,” says Ajith. “Of course, it is a risky move. There is always the danger of the audience rejecting it.”

Asked why the film is called Calling Bell, and Ajith says, “When Qasim enters any place, the thing which alerts him is the calling bell. He is very afraid of it. It means that there is danger. In one scene, he is inside a house, which has a shrill calling bell. Somebody keeps on ringing it. Thinking that it is the police, he opens the door, holding a pistol, and is ready to use it, but sees that it is a child who had come to give birthday sweets.”

Ajith is a veteran of the Malayalam film industry, having acted, mostly as a villain, in more than 500 films. But all along he nourished a dream to be a director. So, one day, he got the idea of a do-gooder thief who steals from banks, and helps the poor. The script took six months to write. But when he found it difficult to get a producer, he decided to make the film himself, with the help of a friend, Rinoi Rajan, under the banner of Rans Entertainers.

“The problem with Malayalam films these days is that they are blindly following the glitz and glamour of Tamil and Telugu films,” he says. “A huge amount of money is spent to make grandiose sets. Despite this, most films flop.”

Ajith decided to make his debut work, in the style of his guru, the late Padmarajan, and current directors, Satyan Anthikad and Kamal. “They make simple films, and yet there is a moving message,” he says. “My film aims to be in the same mould.”

Ajith has been deeply influenced by Padmarajan. It was when he saw one of the director’s films in 1981 that he decided to join the industry. He went and met Padmarajan, who hired him as an assistant. “But after a while, Padmarajan told me that I should try my luck as an actor because I had expressive eyes,” says Ajith. To encourage him, Padmarajan also gave Ajith a role in his film, Paranu, Paranu, Paranu. “That is how my career began,” says Ajith. “But today, I want to take a new step by becoming a director.”