C. Honnappa Bhagavathar, P. Shanthakumari, Chittoor V. Nagaiah, K. Sarangapani, B. R. Panthulu, T.V. Kumudhini, T. N. Meenakshi, K. R. Chellam and Lalitha-Padmini (dance)
During the 1930s and the 1940s, many films with bhakti as the theme were produced in Tamil. They extolled the saints, male and female, and the devotees of the gods and goddesses of the Hindu pantheon. Some of these films were Tukaram, Shantha Sakkubai, Bhaktha Chetha, Bhaktha Gowri and Karaikal Ammaiyar.
One such film, Bhaktha Jana, about a devotee of Lord Panduranga from Maharashtra was popular even in South India, thanks to the success of Marathi and Hindi films on personalities such as Tukaram, Gyaneshwar and Tulsidas.
P. Pullaiah, a multilingual filmmaker of yesteryear, who hailed from Nellore, now in Andhra Pradesh, was drawn to theatre even as a student. He could sing well and recorded songs as private ‘gramophone plates' (as they were popularly known in those days) which were fairly popular.
After graduation he chose to work in movies and went to Kolhapur where he had the privilege of working under the founding father of Indian cinema, Dada Saheb Phalke, and other luminaries such as Baburao Painter, V. Shantaram and the Phendharkar Brothers.
With such experience and devotion to his chosen art form, Pullaiah began to make films. He made Dharmapatni(1941)) in Bombay featuring Shanthakumari as the heroine who became his wife.
Shanthakumari hailed from Proddutur in Andhra and was a music teacher before she came to Madras to work in movies. She played major roles in many Telugu and Tamil films and became a popular actor in South Indian cinema.
Under the banner of Ragini Films (a family company), Pullaiah made Bhaktha Jana. Even as a young girl, Janaka (Shanthakumari) is a staunch devotee of Lord Pandarinath (Panduranga). Her mother does not like it for she feels such blind devotion will affect the marriage prospects and family life of her daughter. Soon, Jana leaves home and is found by Panduranga (Honnappa Bhagavathar) disguised as a sadhu. Jana visits his temple daily much to the discomfort and anger of a staunch devotee Panthoji (Panthulu). As a guru with his own disciples, he doesn't like the young woman coming to the temple alone and orders his disciples to throw her out.
A kind devotee Namadeva (Nagaiah) gives her asylum in his home where Jana faces many problems. She leaves her adopted home. One night, the jewellery in the temple goes missing and is found with Jana. Panthoji and others accuse Jana of theft. That's when Panduranga vanishes from the temple — his idol is missing. His devotees are shocked and later find it with Jana. They realise that Jana has the blessings of Panduranga and that she deserves to be worshipped.
This bhakthi-drenched folk tale from Maharashtra was excellently narrated on-screen by Pullaiah. The later day South Indian movie icon B.R. Panthulu played Panthoji. Nagaiah as Namadeva was at his best. Lalitha-Padmini did a dance number playing Kubja and Krishna.
Bhaktha Jana had melodious music (the lyrics were by the Papanasam Brothers, Sivan and Rajagopala Iyer), while Reema (Ranjan's brother) and Narayanan composed the music with additional inputs by well-known Telugu film music composer BNR.
The dialogue was by Ayyalu Somayajulu, who was active in Tamil cinema. He wrote the dialogue for the MKT-Aswathamma hit, Chintamani, in 1937, and also directed a couple of movies.
Remembered for the emotional story and fine on-screen narration by P. Pullaiah, and impressive performances by Shanthakumari, Panthulu and Nagaiah.