starring Nagaiah, Ch. Narayana Rao, C. Krishnaveni, N.T. Ramarao, Relangi Venkatramaiah, Vangara Venkatasubbaiah, A. Ramanatha Sastry, Kanchan, Hemalathammarao, Lakshmikantham, Surabhi Balasaraswathi, Master Vijaya Sankar.

It was a bold attempt on the part of actor turned producer Krishnaveni to attempt a theme on the freedom movement as her debut production instead of the safe-bet folklore, with which her husband Mirzapuram Raja, studio owner-producer-director, had tasted big success. But then she wanted to be different and proved right when Mana Desam , with L.V. Prasad as the director, proved a commercial success.

However, critics of the time felt the movie would have been a super hit had the banner stuck to the original script, loosely based on Sarath’s novel Vipradas . The protagonist Madhu’s character (played by Ch. Narayana Rao) was diluted in the second half to give more mileage to his elder brother Ramanath (Nagaiah) in the changed script. Any other artiste of the time would have fitted into that role, but an actor of Nagaiah’s stature had to be given more mileage. He was said to have received a remuneration of Rs.90,000, a very high amount in those days, while the film’s hero Narayana Rao was paid only Rs.25,000. The movie was made under MRA Productions’ banner (named after her daughter Meka Rajyalakshmi Anuradha, who herself later became a successful producer), with Krishnaveni as the presenter and her husband as the producer.

The story is set in 1942. Ramnath is a respectable rich man living in a village with his wife Janaki, son Nehru, brother Madhu and a doting step-mother Yashoda, who does not like Madhu’s active participation in the freedom struggle, fearing that he may be jailed. Janaki’s uncle, a lawyer, visits them with his city-bred daughter Sobha. She takes a liking for Madhu but is against his political leanings.

Ramnath shifts his family to Madras. Madhu is arrested for participating in the movement against the British rule. A changed Sobha too jumps into the freedom struggle. Unable to trace her, the police take Ramnath into custody. An enraged Yashodha too joins the movement and goes to jail. But both are soon released. Madhu on parole comes home and Janaki treats him like her son. By then she is critically ill. Once the parole is over, the police come to pick him up. On seeing them, Janaki dies of shock. The police drag a deranged Madhu. After serving the sentence, Madhu, still in a mentally deranged condition, is released. Yashoda blames Ramnath for her son’s plight. A dejected Ramnath leaves the house with his son. But, worried about his brother, he returns home and saves him from a fall. In a dramatic way, Madhu regains normality. India gets independence and the family participates in the celebrations.

The movie opens with a voice-over commentary (dialogue and lyrics by Samudrala Raghavacharya) by Ghantasala Venkateswara Rao, who also composed the music. The narration of the events that led to the August 1942 Quit India movement, right from the launch of the freedom struggle, sustains the mood till the first half, but peters out into a forced drama towards the end, with less focus on the protagonist and more on the leading lady. Thanks to L.V. Prasad’s deft handling, excellent technical support from cinematographer M.A. Rahman and art director T.V.S. Sarma, the movie still sustains interest.

Apart from a dignified performance, Nagaiah also rendered a couple of songs. Hemalathammarao as Yashoda was her stoic self. Ch. Narayana Rao showed brilliance as the freedom-fighter. Incidentally, September 13 marked his 99th birth anniversary. As Sobha, Krishnaveni captivated the audience attention with a neat portrayal and her rendition of the dhampulla paata ‘Athaleni kodaluthmuralamma…’, and the solo songs, ‘bavanu meppinchali…’ and ‘Idi verapo mathi marapo…’, besides the duets rendered with M.S. Ramarao. Ghantasala and Jikki sang for Relangi and Lakshmikantham.

The find of the movie was the future icon Nandamuri Taraka Ramarao. He had met L.V. Prasad at Vijayawada in 1946 after performing in a stage play, ‘Chesina paapam’ that Prasad, along with his assistant director Tatineni Prakasa Rao and art director Kaladhar (he designed the get-ups and costumes for Mana Desam ), watched. Impressed by his good looks and performance, Prasad promised him a movie assignment. On May 21, 1947 NTR had his first make-up test at Sobhanachala Studios. He was given the police inspector’s role as the lead actors had already been finalised. On the first day a shot was taken on NTR and his impeccable dialogue delivery and expressions made the film’s hero Narayana Rao, who till then was called the ‘handsome hero of Telugu cinema,’ comment that ‘a more handsome actor had arrived.’ The next year NTR acted as the hero in B.A. Subbarao’s Palleturi Pilla and there was no looking back. Today Mana Desam is remembered more as NTR’s debut film.

m. l. narasimham