Orphaned sisters Dhalia and Soerip (themselves) leave their village in an attempt to make a living in the colonial capital of Batavia (now Jakarta). After a long period of misery, they are accepted as housemaids at the home of Hajji Iskak (Mochtar Widjaja). Although initially elated, they find that Iskak's wife (Wolly Sutinah) is a cruel mistress who often beats them. Meanwhile, Iskak's would-be son-in-law is constantly flirting with Dhalia, much to his fiancée's dismay.
The sisters decide to run away from Iskak's home. They make their way to Kudus and find work at the Nitisemito clove cigarette factory with the help of their friend (S. Poniman). Not long after their escape, Iskak receives a guest who reveals that the two were his nieces. This revelation spurs Iskak to take out advertisements in newspapers, looking for the young women and asking them to return to Batavia.
Iskak's search has little success until the sisters receive news that he is looking for them, and they quickly return to Batavia. There, the sisters are greeted with open arms. Iskak's wife regrets her earlier treatment of the girls and repents, treating them splendidly and supporting Dhalia's plans to open an orphanage.
Panggilan Darah was the directorial debut of Sutan Usman Karim, commonly known as Suska, a journalist and former member of the touring theatrical group Bolero under Andjar Asmara. With Panggilan Darah, which he also wrote, Suska became one of several reporters who entered the film industry in the 1940s. He directed the film for the Batavia-based film company Oriental, run by the ethnic Chinese producer Tjho Seng Han. The production house had previously released three films, all directed by Njoo Cheong Seng, but after Njoo departed for Fred Young's Majestic, Oriental had required a new director.
The film was shot in black and white by the Indo cameraman J. J. W. Steffens, with editing handled by Soemardjan. Scenes were shot at an orphanage for Muslims owned by S. Z. Gunawan (who played herself in the film), as well as at the Nitisemito cigarette factory in Kudus and at a batik factory in Pekalongan owned by Tan Jauw Lin. Writing in 2009, the Indonesian film historian Misbach Yusa Biran suggested that the film may have been partly sponsored by Nitisemito—one of the largest cigarette factories in the Indies in the 1940s—based on the factory's prominence in the plot.
Dhalia, Soerip, and S. Poniman, already known for their singing prowess, starred in Panggilan Darah, which featured nine kroncong songs. Additional roles were taken by Wolly Sutinah and Mochtar Widjaja. The film marked Sutinah's debut for the company; the other cast members had previous screen credits with Oriental.
Panggilan Darah debuted at the Orion Theatre in Batavia on 30 June 1941. It was reported as a modest success, making most of its money from lower class audiences. It was screened in Surabaya, East Java, by August, and by September it had been shown in Singapore, then part of British Malaya. A novelisation by Roestam Sutan Palindih was published by the Yogyakarta-based Kolff-Buning Publishers that year.
Reviews of Panggilan Darah were mixed to positive. The journalist Soerono, writing in the entertainment magazine Pertjatoeran Doenia dan Film, was pleased with the film's depiction of the Islamic mandate to take care of orphans. An anonymous review in the Surabaya-based daily Soerabaijasch Handelsblad found the film "something special" and praised Soerip's spontaneity in her role. Biran wrote that lower-class audiences enjoyed the film's music, while the intelligentsia scoffed at the idea that a factory supervisor would bring a guitar to work. He found the plot illogical, asking why the sisters would not have worked in their own home village and how the destitute sisters could have made the journey from Batavia to Kudus, over 400 kilometres (250 mi) away.
Unable to recoup its expenses, Oriental later merged into the Dutch-owned Multi Film and ceased producing works of fiction. Suska left the company and joined The Teng Chun's Java Industrial Film, for which he directed Ratna Moetoe Manikam. Most of the cast remained active in cinema for the remainder of their lives. Both Dhalia and Soerip remained in the film industry for the next fifty years; they acted in their last feature films, Pendekar Jagad Kelana (Warrior of Jagad Kelana) and Sejak Cinta Diciptakan (Since Love was Created) respectively, in 1990. Poniman and Sutinah would remain active in the industry until 1975 and 1986. Only Widjaja is not recorded as performing in any more films.
Panggilan Darah was screened as late as August 1952, but may now be lost. Movies in the Indies were recorded on highly flammable nitrate film, and after a fire destroyed much of Produksi Film Negara's warehouse in 1952, old films shot on nitrate were deliberately destroyed. The American visual anthropologist Karl G. Heider writes that all Indonesian films from before 1950 are lost. However, J. B. Kristanto's Katalog Film Indonesia (Indonesian Film Catalogue) records several as having survived at Sinematek Indonesia's archives, and Biran writes that several Japanese propaganda films have survived at the Netherlands Government Information Service.