ANR, NTR, Anjali Devi, A.V. Subbarao, Gadepalli Ramaiah, Nalla Ramamurthy, B.Sitaram, V. Koteswara Rao, D. Hemalatha, Lakshmikantha, Surabhi Balasaraswati, Baby Mallika.
B. A. Subbarao might not have had the faintest idea when he signed a handsome young man with rich voice for one of the lead roles in his first movie ‘Palletoori Pilla’ that one day he would rule not only the Telugu film industry but also the State. The new hero was none other than the charismatic Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao (NTR).
B.A.Subbarao, a manager with Sobhanachala Studios, also used to participate actively in story discussion. When he told his boss, the Raja of Mirzapur, that he intended to turn a filmmaker, the benevolent Rajasaheb not only gave his nod but also offered to be a partner and make the film as a Sobhanachala-BAS joint venture. BAS had a fascination for English plays even during his acting days at the popular theatre group, the Young Men’s Happy Club, Kakinada, where later day stalwarts such as Anjali Devi and Adinarayana Rao were his colleagues. He chose to adapt English playwright Sheridan’s famous drama, ‘Pizzaro’ for his film. Adinarayana Rao, Tapi Dharma Rao, Sadasivabrahmam and Chitrapu Narayana Murthy, along with BAS, wrote the screenplay giving it a native touch.
Anjali Devi was the natural choice for the bold and beautiful village girl’s role. ANR was by then an established hero and had already done a Sobhanachala film. He was signed to play one of the two heroes. BAS was searching for a dynamic youngster to play the other hero when he saw a photograph of NTR at L.V. Prasad’s office. He immediately felt ‘here is his hero.’ But Prasad cautioned him not to burden the newcomer with such a heavy role in his first movie as a hero. BAS agreed, and took care to observe for a week every movement of NTR, the way he walked, talked and his expressions. All these were photographed (stills: Satyam). One such photo was published on a full page in the then popular film magazine, ‘Telugu Cinema’ edited by Commuri Sambasiva Rao. It received tremendous appreciation from the industry. Only then did BAS sign him for the role of Jayanth, the daring dacoit who gets transforms into a valiant saviour.
NTR was a good illustrator even while at school and had won the first prize at the Andhra State Student Science Congress held at Bezwada (now Vijayawada) for his drawing ‘Rythu Bandhana’. In it he drew a farmer held captive by a zamindar, with the former’s instruments strewn all over the ground. And in his debut movie as a hero, in the very first scene itself, he is seen leading a robber gang to loot the poor peasants, when a bold village belle chides him for his act. That brings in the reformation and he comes to live with the villagers.
Santha (Anjali Devi) is the daughter of the village elder Purandayya (Gadepalli Ramaiah), who also looks after his nephew, Vasanth (ANR). Kampana Dora (A.V. Subbarao) leads a dacoit gang. Jayanth (NTR), who is brought up by him, also indulges in dacoities, but undergoes a change of heart when Santha criticises him for his barbaric acts. The villagers don’t trust him at first, but accept him when he saves Santha and Vasanth from a raging bull. Santha and Jayanth get married and this irks Kampana. He kidnaps Jayanth, who, however, is rescued by Kampana’s paramour Ragini (Lakshmikantha) and her maid (Surabhi Balasaraswati). Meanwhile, Santha, who, along with her child, is wandering in the forest in search of her husband, is spotted by Kampana’s men. They take away the child, whom Vasanth saves but in the process himself gets grievously hurt. He hands over the child to Santha and dies. The villagers capture Kampana and bring him to Jayanth. Kampana ultimately regrets his past.
Besides the taut screenplay, Tapi Dharma Rao’s power-packed dialogue plus situational lyrics and Adinarayana Rao’s sweet musical score made the movie a big success. Most of its songs were hits, the popular among them being ‘Palleseemale andhamoyi…’ (rendered by Sridevi, Pithapuram Nageswara Rao and Udutha Sarojini and shot on Anjali Devi, ANR and Baby Mallika), ‘Shantha vanti Pilla Ledoyi…’ (Ghantasala for ANR) and ‘Baravey Joruga Joruga…Neethone Yethaamu sruthi kalipi paadali…’ (M.S. Ramarao, Pithapuram and Sridevi shot on NTR, Nalla Ramanurthy and Anjali Devi).
For the first time in her career Anjali Devi had scope to emote varied emotions-- the gutsy village belle, the lover and the emotional mother—and she did it with aplomb. A.V. Subbarao’s theatrical experience helped him play Kampana’s character with dignity. Nalla Ramamurthy and B. Sitaram (who played Lappam – Tappam) became a popular comedy pair after this film.
ANR, already an established hero, came up with a neat portrayal as Vasanth. NTR as Jayanth was a revelation, giving an indication of what a great future lay before him. The director had told him only to catch the horns of the Australian bull he had to fight (to save Santha and Vasanth), but NTR literally fought with the savage bull which ultimately threw him to the ground, fracturing his right hand. Despite being told to take rest, NTR reported for the shoot the very next day! Incidentally, the two matinee idols came together for the first time with this film and went on to share the screen space in 14 films thereafter.
After the big success of ‘Palletoori Pilla’ (dubbed into Tamil as ‘Grama Penn’ it met with success) BAS went on to make some great films and some not so successful ones, leaving him in penury in his twilight years.
When NTR became the Chief Minister, he made BAS the Chairman of the AP Film Development Corporation. He was also bestowed with the Raghupathi Venkaiah award in 1982.