The first International film festival of India was held in January 1952 in Bombay and in the next month it was taken to Madras, Calcutta and Delhi. Many of our directors and actors attended the festival and some of them were influenced by the films of masters such as Frank Capra (who represented the US film industry at the inaugural festival in Bombay on January 24) and Vittorio De Sica (Bicycle Thieves) etc. N.T. Ramarao (NTR) was one such actor who attended the festival in Madras. Some of these films might have left a deep impact on him. A couple of months later, he was involved in staging plays for a fund raising program in aid of the Rayalaseema drought victims along with other film luminaries. During this one month travel, he was bowled over by the warmth shown by the people and how despite their financial straits some of them came forward to offer their mite. The same year when he made his theatre group, National Arts as a production house, perhaps he had, at the back of his mind, the realistic movies he had watched at the festival and the innocence and affections of the people he had met during his campaign for the ‘Andhra Prabha-Rayalaseema Draught Relief Fund.’ Moreover in an interview during that time, NTR said that “an actor during his struggling period can take up any role that is offered to him. But once he is established, he should not leave his ‘kaladharma’ (artistic duty). He should choose the right roles from the opportunities and safeguard his kaladhramam.”
In a bold move, the emerging super star decided to shed his glamour image on screen and opted to wear the robe of the have-not. With his younger brother Nandamuri Trivikrama Rao as the producer he signed Tatineni Prakasa Rao to direct his maiden production. Incidentally, hailing from Praja Natya Mandali, Tatineni made his debut with the NTR starrer, Palletooru (1952). Prakasa Rao came up with the story of a village bumpkin with a golden heart and titled it ‘Pitchi’ PullaiahPullaiah (NTR) is sent by his father Seshaiah (Koduru Achaiah) to the city to work at Zamindarini Manorama Devi’s (Chayadevi) house. The maid Kantham (Krishnakumari) takes a liking towards him. A distant relative of the deceased Zamindar, Bhupala Rao (Gummadi) controls the estate by enticing Manorama Devi. She is fond of her stepson Chinababu (Amarnath) and his wife Vasantha (Janaki). Bhupala Rao is after the wealth supposedly hidden under the Zamindar’s Samadhi. Vasantha thwarts his dubious plans. In order to get rid of her, Rao spreads rumour about her illicit relationship with Pullaiah. The pregnant Vasantha is thrown out of the house. Pullaiah takes her to his village and there she gives birth to a baby boy. Bhupala Rao hires men to demolish the Samadhi and in the process, assaults Manorama Devi and pushes the blame on Pullaiah. The Zamindarini deposes against Rao in the court, Pullaiah is released and Bhupala Rao and his cronies are punished.
An oft-repeated story, but Tatineni’s screenplay sustained the discerning viewers interest coupled with good performances from the lead actors. NTR’s near natural performance and his flair for humour brought to the fore his talent one more time. Gummadi’s villainy had traces of S.V. Rangarao’s acting style. Incidentally, Tatineni wrote the character keeping in mind his close friend SVR. But NTR insisted on taking Gummadi as he had promised him a role in his first production. While Janaki and Krishnakumari came up with a neat portrayal, it was Chayadevi who scored.
Anisetty Subbarao wrote the dialogue and lyrics and his dialogues like, ‘Ee patnamlo asalu poola kante kagitham poole yekkuvalle unnaye’ (NTR says after realizing that he was watering the paper flowers) went well with the audience. Pitchi Pullaiah was T.V. Raju’s debut movie as an independent composer (He had earlier composed music for Tingu Ranga along with S.B. Dinakara Rao). Popular among the songs were, ‘Bastiki Poyeti O Palletoorivaada…’ (rendered by Atluri Pundarikakshaiah who also played NTR’s friend Chandram in the movie besides working as the Production Executive), ‘Aalapinchana anuraagamtho…’ (Ghantasala) and ‘Sokapu tupanu reginda…’ (M.S. Ramarao). Prakasa Rao’s narrative ability and the mood photography by M.A. Rehman (with K.S. Prasad as the operative cameraman) created the right atmosphere throughout making the movie technically on par with any well-made artistic films of the festival kind. But the audience rejected it as they felt the story is nothing but old wine in a new bottle.