The film was panned by critics upon its release. However, it went on to become a massive hit and is today viewed as a milestone in Rajkumar's career. On the centenary of Indian cinema in April 2013, Forbes included Rajkumar's performance in the film on its list, "25 Greatest Acting Performances of Indian Cinema".
The plot of Bangaarada Manushya revolves around Rajiv (Rajkumar), a lad educated in the city. The movie starts off with Rajiv, who is on his way to visit his sister Sharadha(Adeevani Lakshmidevi). On his way from railway station to his sister's house he sings "Nagu nagutha nali", a song which became a bit hit for its brilliant and inspirational lyrics. Upon reaching he finds to his astonishment that his brother-in-law ("bhava" in Kannada) has died. As his brother-in-law was the sole bread-winner in the family there was no one to look after Rajiv's elder sister("akka" in Kannada), her two sons(Vajramuni and Srinath) and her daughter, Saraswati who are still pursuing education. The sister had not informed Rajiv of her husband's ill health as she thought Rajiv would find it hard to concentrate on his examinations. The elder brother Ramachandra( Loknath) is a puppet in his wife's hands and always listens to her. As per her demands he doesn't even pay for funeral costs and returns to the city with his wife and daughter fearing that he would have to bear the burden of her sister's family. Rajiv decides the best way to get back on the horse is to start farming on his brother-in-law's land. But for that he needs capital, which he decides to ask from the village head and family friend Rachutappa (Balakrishna). Rajiv also asks money for Keshava (Vajramuni) and Chakrapani's(Srinath) education costs. Rachutappa lends without hesitation.
Keshava and Chakrapani leave for Bengaluru. Rajiv's sister is still hopeful of her elder brother helping her out and hence goes to his house. Upon her arrival she meets her sister-in-law who treats her harshly and asks her husband to get rid of this metaphorical albatross. Humiliated, she returns home and informs Rajiv about this who had half expected it. Rajiv's brother-in-law's land had been cultivated by a worker for a long time who after the brother-in-law's death had claimed it as his own. After a small fight between him and Rajiv, interrupted by Rachutappa the worker cedes the land to Rajiv. Now Rajiv begins cultivating his land with help from a friendly villager. On the sidelines, the romance between the neighbour's daughter Lakshmi(Bharathi Vishnuvardhan) results in the hit song "Baala Bangaara". On the lighter side, Rachutappa's son(Dwarakish) who was studying in Bangalore returns to the village where immediately the tussle between the modern ways of the son and the traditional ways of father begins. With the 2 acre land that he was cultivating he was able to make ends meet but it was not enough and decides to buy 25 acres of barren land near the village from the government. Again he takes loan from Rachutappa who advises against this. Undeterred, Rajiv goes ahead. On seeing the barren land Rachutappa collapses in despair thinking Rajiv had made a mistake. Then follows another hit inspirational song from the movie, "Agadu Endu". During the song an important message is given, which is the use of technology in farming. Rajiv with the help of engineers turns the land fertile. Making huge profits, Rajiv repays the loans with interest and builds a proper house replacing the hut they once lived in. He becomes a respectable person in the village.
Rajiv keeps going to another city, Belgaum every 6 months for a day citing one or the other reason. Keshava and Chakrapani return to the village after successfully completing their education. Rajiv and Lakshmi leave for a fair in a nearby village resulting in another hit song "Mysooru Mallige". Though all the elders including Lakshmi's parents had agreed Rajiv and Lakshmi's betrothal, for some reason Rajiv does not agree. On one of his trips to Belgaum, his purpose there is revealed. As he makes his way towards a house, he stops short as a nosy neighbour strikes up a conversation hoping to get more info out of him. The neighbour accuses him of carelessness for leaving his wife and kid and going on business trips for 6 months all the time. Rajiv asks the woman, Sharavathi(Aarathi) about her son, Kishore. Again on the sidelines, an important message of co-operative farming is given through a small incident.
Chakrapani, a doctor decides to stay in the village so does Sridhar. Keshava stays in Bengaluru. The elder brother, Ramachandra's daughter, Nagaveni expresses her wish to marry Keshava, to which even her mother agrees as he is well educated and has a lucrative job. Hence they go to Rajiv's house to talk about this. Rajiv's sister, Sharadha tells Ramachandra to talk about this with Rajiv. Rajiv and Sharadha are opposed to this but decide to respect Keshava and Chakrapani's decision. To their surprise Keshava also expresses his desire to marry Nagaveni. Chakrapani agrees to marry a family friends' daughter. Sridhar, a friend of Keshava and Chakrapani whose education costs were also taken up by Rajiv agrees to marry Saraswati, Keshava and Chakrapani's younger sister. Again on the lighter side, Rachutappa's son starts throwing tantrums that everyone in the village of his age are married except him. Rajiv tries to console him and mend the relationship between son and father. Rachutappa pulls a quick one on Rajiv by putting forth a condition that he will marry off his son only when Rajiv gets married. Finally Rajiv agrees to marriage with Lakshmi. Another song "Hani hani gooddre" is sung during Suggi Habba, showing how the village has flourished.
Keshava's wife Nagaveni pesters him to quit his current job and start a business as his current pay is not enough for their posh life style. Their conversation is interrupted by Patil, who works for Keshava. Patil sees Rajiv's photo in the house and informs him of Rajiv's periodical visit to Belgaum. To confirm the disturbing news given by Patil Keshava goes to Belgaum. He enters Sharavathi's house and sees Rajiv's photo hanging inside. When asked who he was, Sharavathi replies "Mane Yajamanrudu(House owner)". With no respect for Rajiv anymore, Keshava confronts Rajiv and asks 50,000 Rupees so that he could start a business. Rajiv doesn't agree and refuses to give him money until he learns its value. Rajiv leaves the room while Lakshmi and Sharadha is still in the room. Keshava in anger reveals to them about Sharavathi, accusing Rajiv of adultery. Both of them refuse to believe this and decide not to tell Rajiv that they know about Sharavathi. Rajiv had bought Lakshmi a red saree. She decides to wear it while bringing lunch to Rajiv who is the field. On the way the red colour of the clothe attracts a bull which starts chasing her. While Rajiv fights off the bull, Lakshmi falls into a nearby well and by the time Rajiv dives in to save her, it is too late.
Nagaveni convinces Keshava to seek legal help in reclaiming what is rightfully his. Here Rajiv and Sharadha are in utter despair over Lakshmi's loss. In a bid to make a starving Sharadha eat, Rajiv agrees to eat with her. Just when the dinner is set Keshava makes an entrance with a lawyer. Rajiv doesn't entertain this by not even turning around instead Sharadha gets up. While a verbal fight breaks out between son and mother, Keshava hurls some hurtful words at Rajiv. He accuses Rajiv of stealing their property and taking advantage of their situation. He goes to the extent of saying that the rice in front of him is not his. Hearing this Rajiv washes his hands without having eaten a morsel of rice. Quietly Rajiv walks out of the house while praying for the well being of the villagers. Chakrapani tracks down Sharavathi and brings her to Rajiv's house to show Rajiv's greatness to Keshava. Sharavathi reveals that she is their step-sister, i.e., she was the illegitimate child of Sharadha's husband. Rajiv had kept this a secret and had helped her all these years.
All set out to search for Rajiv but they don't find him. Rajiv quietly walks into the sunset.Rajkumar as Rajeeva
Bharathi as Laxmi
Vajramuni as Keshava
M. P. Shankar
Aarathi as Sharavathi
Advani Lakshmi Devi
Balakrishna as Rachutappa
Srinath as Chakrapani
Dwarakish as village head's son
Kala as Rajeeva's sister
H. R. Shastri
The film was shot at Kalasapura and in Chikmagalur.
The soundtrack of the film was composed by G. K. Venkatesh with lyrics penned by Hunsur Krishnamurthy, Chi. Udaya Shankar, R. N. Jayagopal and Vijaya Narasimha. The two romantic songs "Aaha Mysooru Mallige" and "Baala Bangaara Neenu, Haneya Singara Neenu" have withstood the test of the time. The audio was later released on Saregama.
The songs "Aagadu Endu" and "Nagu Naguta Nali" remain inspirational even now. The former talks about how never give up attitude is necessary for success and that there is no substitute for hard work. The song incorporates many old proverbs and sayings found in Kannada literature like "kei kesaradare, bai mosaru" and also some translated versions of those from English like "where there is a will, there is a way" and "work is worship". While saying "nothing is impossible", it says Belur and Halebidu would not have been possible with a weak mind. Elucidating "nothing ventured, nothing gained", the lyricist banks on the achievements of Sir Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya by saying if he had not built Kannambadi Katte, Karnataka would not have been blessed by Kaveri. The latter talks about always being happy even during hardship.It says everything happens for a good reason and in accordance with the God's plan. The song emphasizes that the most valuable things in life are intangible and cannot be quantified. It starts to list out some of them and iterates its stand on it being priceless. One can be wealthy by giving and receiving love. A child without clothes or footwear is not poor due to his/her mother's love. Time spent with friends in childhood which becomes valuable memories later is also wealth.
Bangaarada Manushya had a tremendous impact on moviegoers. Some city youth, inspired by the movie's central theme—returning to one's ancestral village—left their jobs, came back to their respective villages and took to agriculture. The film had a phenomenal box office run and was screened for two years in a row in the States film theatre on Kempe Gowda road in Bangalore. The film had a deep social impact on the audience as well and there are many stories of people in the city going to villages and becoming farmers. The film also touched on very important topics like rural development, modern agricultural practices, co-operative movement, social unity, honesty, love and dedication. In the beginning of the movie, it shows the hardship of farmers and how much they have to toil in order to make ends meet. The movie subtly says that middle-class and working-class are the backbone of the country by showing the son of a rich village head as being a spoiled brat wasting his money in the city. One of the most important messages given in the movie is that, one should not waste time and money in trying to modernize/westernize themselves through a posh life style. One should be true to their identity and not try to become someone else. This theme struck a chord with the audience as Karnataka was one of the fast developing states in the country and there was a large migration from rural to urban areas.
After the film ran for a year just at the State cinema in Bangalore, the management of the cinema hall decided to stop screening the film to accommodate a new film. This caused public outrage and took a violent turn. However, S. Bangarappa, the then MLA, intervened and resolved the issue successfully. The film went on to complete two years.
The film was remade into in Telugu as Devudalanti Manishi with Krishna as hero.
2017 film Bangara s/o Bangarada Manushya starring Dr. Rajkumar's son Shiv Rajkumar had a similar plot dealing with the problems of farmers. The title of the film inspired a book of same name written by A. N. Prahlada Rao.
The English translation of the book Bangarada Manushya named Rajkumar: The Inimitable Actor With A Golden Voice was released in New Jersey, United States on 10 May 2008. The same book was released in London, England by Edward Thamson, Senator during the month of August 2008. The late thespian Rajkumar, who made Kannadigas proud with his brilliant acting skills and his golden voice, the book dedicated to him, in English. Rajkumar: The Inimitable Actor With A Golden Voice was released by the actor’s wife Parvathamma Rajkumar in May 2008 at Bangalore also. She handed over the first copy to Professor K.S.Nissar Ahemed the famous poet and Padmshree Awardee. The book, originally written in Kannada by A. N. Prahlada rao, and titled Bangarada Manushya (The Golden Man), was first released in 2005 in the presence of Rajkumar himself. It ran into four editions and sold over 15,000 copies. The book has been translated into English by literary critic C. N. Ramachandran and journalist Alladi Jayashri. Published by Sapna Book House, Bangalore. To mark the completion of 75 years of Kannada film industry, the book has been released in New Jersey, America on 10 May 2008 sponsored by Brindavana, the Kannada Association of New Jersey. On this occasion the author A.N. Prahalada Rao and his wife Mallika Prahlad has been honoured by the resident Kannadigas from New Jersey, New York, Washington DC and other surrounding cities.
Despite the overwhelming response, the film attracted strong criticism from a section of writers. Commenting on the purpose and narrative mode of the film, the late novelist Alanahalli Krishna said, "The film shows scant respect to the audience by showing a close-up of the hero’s footwear in the very beginning of the film. It encourages idol worship." On the other hand, writer U. R. Ananthamurthy said the film was deceptive and would lead the young audience believe that they too will grow rich overnight like their hero Rajiva in the film. Irrespective of the flak, the film was set to redefine the course of Kannada commercial cinema. "Bangarada Manushya" had drawn the audience to the cinema hall in an unprecedented manner.
The movie received following awards at 1971–72 Karnataka State Film AwardsSecond Best Film
Best Supporting Actor — T. N. Balakrishna
Best Screenplay — Siddalingaiah
Best Cinematographer — D. V. Rajaram
Best Editing — P. Bhakthavathsalam
The film screened at IFFI 1992 Kannada cinema Retrospect.