The film focuses on Devadasu and Parvati, who have been in love since childhood. Parvati's father objects to the relationship and forces her to marry a middle-aged zamindar. Unable to cope with his failure to win Parvati, Devadas turns into a drunkard, and the rest of the film is about whether or not Devadas meets Parvati again.
Devadasu, the son of Ravulapalle zamindar Narayana Rao, and Parvati, daughter of his poor neighbour Neelakantham, are childhood friends. The zamindar enrolls his son in a boarding school in the city. When the grown-up Devadasu returns to the village after finishing his education, his childhood friendship with Parvati turns into love.
When Parvati's grandmother talks of the alliance, the zamindar refuses the proposal. Irritated, Neelakantham vows to find a wealthier prospective son-in-law and arranges Parvati's marriage with the zamindar of Durgapuram, an elderly widower with children. However, Parvati secretly meets Devadasu and asks him to accept her as his wife.
Devadasu is surprised at her visit, sends her away, and goes back to the city. He writes to Parvati that he cannot defy his parents, so Parvati marries the old zamindar. Unable to forget her, Devadasu is despondent. He takes to drinking alcohol excessively and is encouraged by his friend Bhagawan, who also introduces him to Chandramukhi, a prostitute.
While Parvati settles into her new house, Devadasu chooses the path of self-destruction. On the advice of Chandramukhi, he leaves for his village, but goes to Durgapuram to keep a promise he had made to Parvati that he visit her before his death. Devadasu breathes his last in front of her house. Parvati rushes to see him, but the door is closed by her family and she collapses.Akkineni Nageswara Rao as Devadasu (Devadas in Tamil)Master Sudhakar as young Devadasu
Savitri as ParvatiBaby Anuradha as young Parvati (Telugu)
Sachu as young Parvati (Tamil)
Lalitha as Chandramukhi
S. V. Ranga Rao as Narayana Rao
Chilakalapudi Seeta Rama Anjaneyulu as the zamindar of Durgapuram
Doraswamy as Neelakantham
Surabhi Kamalabai as Parvati's grandmother
Peketi Sivaram as Bhagawan
Devadasu was directed by Vedantham Raghaviah and produced by D. L. Narayana under the production banner of Vinodha Pictures. It was produced simultaneously in Telugu and Tamil languages (the latter as Devadas) . The film's script, which was written by Aluri Chakrapani, was based on the novel Devdas by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay. The story of Devadasu revolves around a feudal lord's son Devadas falling in love with a poor girl Parvati. Due to differences in their social and economic status, Devadas cannot marry his childhood love and Parvati marries an old man. Unable to forget her, he becomes alcoholic. Devadasu was the first Telugu adaptation of Chattopadhyay's novel, and Devadas was the second Tamil adaptation of the same, following the 1937 Devadas directed by and starring P. V. Rao.
Samudrala Raghavacharya and Udaykumar wrote the dialogue for the Telugu and Tamil versions, respectively. B. S. Ranga was recruited as the director of photography, and P. V. Narayanan edited the film. Vali and Kotwankar were the art directors.
Akkineni Nageswara Rao and Sowcar Janaki were chosen as the lead pair. Arani Sathyanarayana portrayed the role of Devadasu's man Friday. Peketi Sivaram, who went on to become a famous director, portrayed the role of Bhagawan. S. V. Ranga Rao, Chilakalapudi Seeta Rama Anjaneyulu, and Surabhi Kamalabai were selected to portray supporting roles. Lalitha of the Travancore Sisters was signed to play Chandramukhi, the prostitute.
After a week of shooting, the film was shelved due to the view that such a story might not succeed in Telugu; the production company instead produced Shanti, which became a failure. D. L. Narayana then decided to revive Devadasu as an independent producer. Janaki, who was originally chosen for the character of Parvati, was replaced by Savitri.
Principal photography commenced with Nagaraja Rao, a still photographer shooting some stills of Nageswara Rao in the guise of Devadasu, with a glass in his hand and the looks of a drunkard. Rao also took shots of Savitri in Parvati's make-up in Naarsu's Studio. Impressed with these stills, Narayana decided to use the same make-up for the real shooting of the film. He showed these make-up stills to Mangaiah, the make-up man, who followed the same. Nageswara Rao, who portrayed the titular character, later recalled that Vedantam, being a Kuchipudi dance exponent and an experienced stage actor, used to enact the scenes before the actors, thereby making their job easy. He even recalled that that the director shot him only at night so that he could give the character a "drunken, droopy" look. Those night-time shots were filmed over 50 days. The final length of both versions was 17,260 feet (5,260 m).
The official soundtracks of Devadas were composed by C. R. Subbaraman. The lyrics were written by Samudrala Raghavacharya and Udumalai Narayana Kavi and K. D. Santhanam for the Telugu and Tamil versions, respectively. Though Samudrala is credited as the lyricist in the film, M. L. Narasimham of The Hindu believes that Malladi Ramakrishna Sasthri also wrote some of the lyrics. C. R. Subbaraman died before the film's release, and the remaining songs were composed by his assistants M. S. Viswanathan and T. K. Ramamoorthy.
The soundtracks of the Telugu and Tamil versions were released on 31 December 1953; both were marketed by HMV. The soundtracks were a huge commercial success, with "Jagame Maaya" and "Kala Idani", in particular, achieving cult status. Songs like "Ulage Maayam" and "O Devadas" became popular among the Tamil diaspora. The song "Kudi Yemaithe" was composed using the Kalyani raga. The song "Intha Telisi" is composed in various ragas. The song "Palleku Podam" was later remixed by Anup Rubens for Aatadukundam Raa (2016).
The soundtracks received positive reviews from critics. Reviewing the Tamil version, Randor Guy of The Hindu noted that the songs "contributed to the [film's] success". Reviewing the Telugu version, M. L. Narasimham from the same newspaper also praised the songs, noting, "The major contribution to the film's success, however, came from the music director, a genius called C. R. Subbaraman. Every song he composed is a hit to this day." S. Theodore Baskaran in his book The Eye of the Serpent noted, "One factor that sustains the popularity of this film to this is the songs [sic]". On "Intha Telisi", Dakshinamurthy M. of The Hans India noted, "The 'pallavi' and 'charanam' are in Kharaharapriya, second 'charanam' is in Ranjani and the last one is in Mohana. The switching from 'charanam' to 'pallavi' and vice versa is so smooth, one forgets to notice the change in 'ragam' and 'bhavam'."
The Telugu version, Devadasu, was released on 26 June 1953, and the Tamil version was released three months later on 11 September 1953. Both versions were commercially successful, playing for over 100 days in theatres.
Devadasu received positive reviews from critics upon its release. M. L. Narasimham praised the performances of the film's cast, particularly that of Nageswara Rao. He added that B. S. Ranga's "excellent" cinematography and C. R. Subbaraman's music were the film's highlights apart from Vedantham Raghavaiah's direction. Reviewing Devadas, Randor Guy wrote that the film was remembered for "empathetically brilliant performance of Nageswara Rao in the title role and equally impressive acting by Savithri". S. Theodore Baskaran described the casting of Nageswara Rao and Savitri as "near perfect". Hindustan Times stated that Nageswara Rao's performance "remains a classic portrayal of the character that has been adapted on-screen several times". Film archivist P. K. Nair noted, "Akkineni Nageshwara Rao identified himself with the character so intensely [...] that it remains one of Telugu cinema’s outstanding performances."
C. S. H. N. Murthy, author of the 2012 Routledge article Film remakes as cross-cultural connections between North and South, praised Devadasu for "follow[ing] closely the text of the novel as a hypotext". Murthy was the first author to interpret the Devadas phenomenon in terms of de-westernizing media studies by appropriately locating the character of Devdas into the relevant and contemporary religious ethos of India that time. Murthy was not only critical of the Western Scholars' interpretations of Devadas as a narcissist and pseudo-masochist but also questioned their theoretical frameworks based on Western Sexualities and Post-feminism. While placing the crux of the adaptation studies using film as text, he rightly pointed out the dissonance in trying to draw such comparisons based on Western film theories. His article endeavours to make a critical intervention in current South Asian Studies by aiming to provide novel theoretical frame work, hitherto unknown and unheard in Indian film studies, to which philosophical and traditional tenets grounding the novella of Devdas can be anchored.
Devadasu and Devadas are regarded as among the most successful films in Telugu and Tamil cinema respectively. Upon release, the dialogue Thaagithe maruva galanu, thaaganivvaru, marichipothe thaagagalanu, maruvanivvaru (English: If I drink, I can forget, but they don't let me drink; if I forget, I can drink, but they don't let me forget) became famous. The film proved to be a major breakthrough in Nageswara Rao's career. The success of the film made him known as the "Tragedy King" of Telugu cinema and also led to his becoming typecast in similar roles. In order to shed the tragic-romantic hero image, he accepted a comic role in Missamma (1955). Savitri too appeared in Missamma, and her character in that film was described by Pa. Dheenadhayalan of Dinamani as an antithesis of her role in Devadasu. Vazhvey Maayam (1982), which was named after a line from "Ulagaae Maayam", was described by Encyclopaedia of Indian Cinema as an "update of the Devdas plot".
In July 2007, S. R. Ashok Kumar of The Hindu asked eight Tamil directors to list ten of their favourite films. Balu Mahendra named Devadas as one of his top ten Tamil films. He said that it had "superb lighting by B. S. Ranga, excellent performances by A. Nageswara Rao and Savithri, and haunting music by C. R. Subbaraman". Actor Sivakumar stated, "You can’t reproduce movies like Parasakthi, Pasamalar, Devadas, Veerapandiya Kattabomman or Ratha Kanneer [...] By remaking such films, you are lowering yourself, while it enhances the original artists’ image." YVS Chowdary titled his 2006 comedy film Devadasu, though it had no similarity with this film. In May 2012, Radhika Rajamani of Rediff.com mentioned Devadasu for the letter D in her list, "The A to Z of Telugu Cinema". During a programme titled "Telugu Cinema Prasthanam" organised by the film society of Vishakhapatnam, writer and actor Ravi Kondala Rao placed Devadasu among other Telugu films like Raja Harishchandra (1913), Bhakta Prahlada (1932), Mala Pilla (1938), Pathala Bhairavi (1951) and Lava Kusa (1963) during a speech on the role of Telugu cinema in the hundred years of Indian cinema. In April 2013, CNN-News18 included the film in its list of "100 greatest Indian films of all time". Indo-Asian News Service described Devadasu as one of Nageswara Rao's "best films". Dilip Kumar, who portrayed Devadas in the 1955 film directed by Bimal Roy, admitted that Nageswara Rao's performance as the character was better than his own, remarking, "There is only one Devadas (1953), and that is Akkineni Nageswara Rao." A scene from Devadasu, in which the title character converses with a street dog while drunk, was parodied in a promotional still from Majnu (2016), where the male lead (Nani) humorously converses with a stuffed puppy, while imitating Devadasu's mannerisms.