P. Pullaiah, who hailed from Nellore, now in Andhra Pradesh, made movies in Tamil and Telugu, with some of them becoming huge hits. He had his early training under the founding father of Indian Cinema, Dadasaheb Phalke, and came back to Madras after working in Kolhapur and Poona. He made Dharmapathni (1941) which had his wife Shanthakumari as the heroine. It was in this film Akkineni Nageswara Rao (ANR, superstar of south Indian cinema who was 17 then)made his first appearance in a supporting role.
It was also in this film that writer, producer and studio owner of Vijaya Vauhini fame, Chakrapani (original name Alur Venkata Rao) took his bow as a dialogue writer. Pullaiah formed his own company, Ragini Films, in which he and his wife were partners. They lived in a spacious bungalow in Royapettah in the area that was then known as ‘ Kolaikaaran Pettai ,’ a distortion of ‘ Kallukaaran Pettai !,’ where many leading film personalities lived during that period. Pullaiah, a disciplinarian, had the distinction of directing all the top stars of south Indian cinema such as Sivaji Ganesan, Gemini Ganesan, MGR, NTR and ANR. A much-feared man, he never hesitated to pull up people if they committed mistakes on sets. Dharma Devatha was produced in Tamil and Telugu and had a mixture of leading personalities of both industries. The script was written by a team of top creative personalities of Telugu cinema such as K.V. Reddy, D. Gopichand, P. Chengaiah, Lingamurthi and BNR.
Thanjai Ramaiah Das wrote the dialogue and the lyrics, while the music was composed by C.R. Subburaman, who unfortunately died when he was just 41. (His assistants, M.S. Viswanathan and T.K. Ramamurthi, completed much of his incomplete films.)
There were quite a few dances in the film and the choreography was by Pasumarthi Krishnamurthi, a well-known dance composer of his day. Dharma Devatha was a convoluted tale of kings, greedy ministers, lovely princesses and attractive street dancers. Bijlee, a street dancer, was played by Lalitha and expectedly, she performed quite a few dances. Girija, a bilingual actress, played a princess who was kidnapped when young. The tale is somewhat confusing with many twists and turns, but was well narrated on screen by Pullaiah, a past master in handling such scripts. There were 11 songs with dances by Lalitha and Padmini. Shanthakumari, a well-known singer-actor, sang a fine lullaby. Kaushik, the hero, was played by a handsome actor (original name M.L. Narasimha Sastri). Sadly, he passed away young due to severe typhoid and his promising career was cut short much to the regret of many. Dharma Devatha , according to critics, fared better in Telugu than in Tamil.
Remembered for: the deft direction of Pullaiah, pleasing songs, attractive dances by Lalitha and Padmini, and good performances by the veteran artistes.