Starring Paluvayi Bhanumathi, Akkineni Nageswara Rao, Sriranjani, Mukkamala Krishnamurthy, Relangi Venkatramaiah, C.S.R. Anjaneyulu, Kasturi Sivarao, Sitaram, Doraswamy, K.V. Subbarao, A.L. Narayana, Suryakantham, Surabhi Kamalabai, Angamuthu
Rehashing of movie scripts from old hits to make quick money is not a recent phenomenon. It existed even during the early decade of the talkie period. A fine example was Bharani Pictures’ Prema, produced and directed by Bhanumathi’s husband, P.S. Ramakrishna Rao, a talented editor–director. Interestingly the duo took the main storyline from one of their own earlier pictures and developed it into a tragic romantic social theme (the story is credited to Bhanumathi). Most of the lead actors, including the hero, villain and the two heroines, of the earlier movie, were retained! Buttheir box-office calculations went wrong. Prema and its Tamil version Kadhal (released the same year) did not come anywhere near the success of their 1949 super hit movie, Laila Majnu.
Raja (ANR) accompanies his rich maternal uncle Sundara Rao (Doraswamy) to a hill resort to help the latter recoup his health. There he falls in love with Moti (Bhanumathi), a tribal woman, and she too responds. A tribal goon Parasuram (Mukkamala) is after Moti. One night, Sundara Rao suddenly develops chest pain and Raja rushes him to a city hospital. Moti’s parents, Khaderao (K.V. Subba Rao) and mother Bansi (Surabhi Kamala Bai) fix her marriage with Parasuram. Moti manages to escape. Meanwhile, Raja returns to the village, and, on knowing that Moti’s marriage is being performed with Parasuram, is dejected and leaves for the city. Moti, who is now in the city with the hope of meeting Raja, sees him with Latha (Sriranjani), daughter of Sundara Rao, and assumes they are married. Crestfallen, she runs madly in the streets and meets with a car accident. Sivaswamy (CSR), a beggar, saves her and takes her to his house. A drama contractor Raoji (Relangi) and his assistant (Sivarao) take Moti into their troupe and train her for the title role of Sakunthala in their drama. Raja and Latha attend the drama. The two lovers, Moti and Raja exchange notes about their single status and their love blossoms again. Latha and Sundara Rao plot to separate them and succeed in their attempt. Moti sacrifices her love for Latha and leaves for her village. Parasuram kills her when she refuses to yield to him and is in turn killed by her friendChimli. Raja gets to know the truth from Latha and rushes to the village to meet Moti. Latha follows him. Both pay their homage to Moti.
Veteran Kamal Ghosh was in charge of the camera. The dialogue and lyrics were penned by Kondamudi Gopalaraya Sarma. Neither ANR nor Bhanumathi could inject fresh blood into such insipid characters. Film critic, Commuri Sambasivarao had observed in the December 1951 issue of Telugu Cinema that in the early years of his career, ANR, passionately in love with films, was under the impression that if an actor acted in more number of movies, it would signify his popularity in the industry.
The movie regained most of its investment with its music. C.R. Subbaraman came up with scintillating melodies that are popular to this day. The duet ‘Divya Premaku Saatiyouvne Swargamaina…’ (Ghantasala & Bhanmathi), the joyous, ‘Pelliyanta…Maa Pelliyanta…,’ ‘Haayi Jeevithame Haayile’ (both by Bhanumathi) and ‘Oho… Idigada Beauty Idigadaa…’ (A.P. Komala for Sriranjani) and the pathos ‘Priyuni Baasi Brathuke Bhaaramaipoyenemo…’ (Bhanumathi) and ‘Naa Prema Naava ee Reethiga…’ (Ghantasala), the comic ‘Muntha Perugoy Babu Muntha Perugandi…’ (Balasaraswati, Relangi and Sivarao) and the philosophical ‘Prapanchamantha Jhoota…’ (Pithapuram Nageswara Rao (rendered for CSR) drew crowds to the theatres.
Interestingly, C.R. Subbaraman, for some unknown reasons, did not sign Ghantasala (till the movie ‘Prema’) to sing for him after Swapnasundari though he had composed music for about half a dozen films in between.
He used different voices for the lead actors. For Sri Lakshmamma Katha and Stree Sahasam he engaged Susarla Dakshinamurthy, for Rupavathi and Shanti it was Pithapuram Nageswara Rao, for Dharmadevatha the voice was that of K. Prasada Rao and for Ammalakkalu it was A.M. Raja. It could be either a change of heart on the part of the veteran composer or the insistence of Bhanumathi and Ramakrishna to engage Ghantasala to sing playback for ANR in Prema.
Their reunion only proved good for Telugu cinema as the duo’s next work was the classic, Devadasu.