By the turn of the 1950s Akkineni Nageswara Rao was a sought-after star. His friend-philosopher-guide and mentor from his stage days, Dukkipati Madhusudana Rao felt it was the right time to launch an own production house. Thus was born Annapurna Pictures (P) Ltd, named after Madhusudana Rao’s stepmother. Besides Madhusudana Rao and ANR, Katragadda Srinivasa Rao, Koratala Prakasa Rao and T.V.A. Subbarao were its partners. ‘Bharani’ P.S. Ramakrishna Rao who gave memorable hits with ANR was approached to direct their debut venture. Though he accepted the offer, for some reasons he backed out. P.Pullaiah who introduced ANR in films, too was busy with the Tamil version of Ardhangi and other commitments. ANR had a wish to work with K.V. Reddi and when they met him K.V. obliged on condition that they have to wait till he completed Peddamanushulu. The wait was worth its moolah as Donga Ramudu established Annapurna Pictures as a top banner.
D.V. Narasaraju, the writer of Peddamanushulu was chosen to pen the story and dialogues. Since he was directing ANR for the first time, K.V. thought it should be different from the actor’s earlier movies. He suggested that he pen a story on a brother-sister sentiment with the brother going to any extent, even committing a murder for the sake of his sister. Madhusudana Rao recollected a short story, ‘Loving Brothers’ that he had read in an anthology of American short stories. In the story, the elder brother commits robberies to educate his younger brother. Taking that point replacing the younger brother with a sister, Narasaraju, Madhusudana Rao and K.V. Reddi wrote the story of Donga Ramudu.
The Story: Ramudu (ANR) after serving a jail sentence for a theft he had committed during childhood to buy medicines for his mother (Hemalatha) lands in a job as a servant at moneylender Veerabhadraiah’s (Relangi) house. He finds his sister Lakshmi (Jamuna) in an orphanage and promises to pay her college fee. To raise the money, he steals at Bhadraiah’s house but is caught and jailed. Lakshmi escapes an attack by Babulu (R. Nageswara Rao) a local thug, with the help of Seetha (Savitri) the vegetable vendor with whom Ramudu is in love. Seetha gets shelter for her at Dr. Mohan’s (Jaggaiah) house. Impressed by her virtues, the doctor decides to marry Lakshmi. Ramudu joins as a driver with Mohan. He warns his sister not to reveal that they are siblings. But Veerabhadraiah who is angry that the doctor has not married his daughter (Swarajyalakshmi), reveals their identity and that Ramudu is a thief. Veerabhadraiah is murdered by Babulu but the blame falls on Ramudu. Seetha helps prove Ramudu’s innocence by bringing Babulu to book. The story ends on a happy note.
Cast and Crew: A simple story well told. The movie gives a feeling of many climaxes but K.V.’s acumen never made the audience feel bored or tired. Besides subtle humour in dialogue, Narasaraju created such catch words as ‘gas’ for telling a lie which is popular even today. R. Nageswara Rao’s famous dialogue, Babulu gaadi debba ante Golconda abba anali, became popular too. The school master Vangara’s usage of ‘Jambukarandhrapura Agraharam’ for his village name, ‘Nakkabokkalapadu’ is one such. Adi M. Irani cranked the camera.
The acting honours were equally shared by ANR, Jamuna, Savitri, Relangi and R. Nageswara Rao. Jaggaiah came up with a dignified portrayal as did Suryakantham as Relangi’s wife. K.V. Reddi relied on experienced actors for other characters - Vinnakota Ramannapanthulu (as the elder brother of Jaggaiah), Allu Ramalingaiah, (the orphanage manager), Maddali Krishnamurthy (Police Inspector), Commuri Padmavathi Devi, (Jaggaiah’s mother) and Bezawada Kanthamma (Relangi’s mother).
Pendyala Nageswara Rao largely contributed to the film’s success with his melodious score. The evergreen hits include, ‘Chigurakulalo Chilakamma…’ (Ghantasala & Jikki), ‘Ravoyi Maa intiki…’ (Jikki), ‘Telisinda babu…Ipudu thelisinda…’ and ‘Bhale thatha mana Bapuji…’ (both rendered by P. Susheela).
Trivia: ANR and R. Nageswara Rao took special coaching from stunt director Raghavulu for the wrestling scene, a major attraction in the movie.
An upcoming actress, Sarada made a brief appearance as the friend of Jamuna in the orphanage. Master Varma who stole the show with natural ease as the young Ramudu later took up the job of a city bus ticket checking inspector in Hyderabad, recommended by ANR. Maddali Krishnamurthy lent voice to R. Nageswara Rao in the song, ‘Ravoyi Maa Intiki…’ delivering the dialogues including the popular, ‘Avval right.’ (for all right).
Released on October 2, 1955, Donga Ramudu became a super hit. It also received the rare honour of being archived in the curriculum of the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune for its excellence in filmmaking.