The film was an adaptation of stage play of same name which also starred MR Radha. The film was released on 6 November 1954 and it became a greatest hit in M. R. Radha's career. It was later remade as Raktha Kanneeru in 2003 in Kannada with Upendra and Ramya Krishna in the lead roles.
The film starts with Balu (S. S. Rajendran) giving a speech and narrating the story before an audience gathered around a man's statue.
Mohanasundaram (M. R. Radha) is a philanderer, chain-smoker and drunkard. He does not respect elders, or people below his social standards. He is ruthless and even beats his own mother (S. R. Janaki). Immediately after his return to India, he is married to Chandra (Sriranjani), a cultured, well-mannered, conservative Indian village girl. But he develops an affair with Kantha (M. N. Rajam), a prostitute. His best friend Balu tries to advise him and mend his ways but Mohan turns a deaf ear. Mohan even failed to attend his own mother's post-death formalities as he wanted to attend the birthday function of Kantha's mother. Mohan loses his mind over Kantha, even surrenders all his riches to her and also loses every loved one in his life. When he lost the last of his riches and close ones, he gets struck down by leprosy. His life then turns upside down. With no money left for the treatment of his disease, he is totally ignored and despised by Kantha and her associates. She even locks him up in a room and treats him like an untouchable. In a few days, Kantha throws him out of her house and Mohan loses his eyesight soon after. As a poor leper, he wanders the streets to beg for food. In this last stage of his life, he learns the value of life itself and how to respect others. He feels remorseful for the way he treated his wife, mother and everyone else around him. He meets Chandra, his wife, who now lives a scarce life. Both do not recognize each other, as he is blind and she gets to see only his disfigured, leprosy-stricken face. He also meets his old best friend, Balu. The trio finally recognize each other. Mohan also learns through Balu about Kantha's death in an air crash. Mohan marries Chandra to Balu, in the hope that the still-virgin Chandra can now only be loved and cared for by a better man than Mohan himself. He also speaks his parting words and requests a leper's statue to be risen in his likeness, as a threatening example to philanderers like himself.
In the final scene, Balu finishes his narration in front of Mohan's statue (as seen in the beginning) and breaks into a song about righteousness and values of life.M. R. Radha as Mohanasundaram
S. S. Rajendran as Balu
M. N. Rajam as Kantha
J. P. Chandrababu as The pimp
Sriranjani as Chandra
S. R. Janaki as Mohanasundaram's mother
Sayee Subbulakshmi choreographer: Muthuswami Pillai
Ratha Kanneer was a stage play written by Thiruvarur K. Thangarasu, a disciple of Periyar and contemporary of Mu. Karunanidhi. M. R. Radha portrayed the main character of philanderer in the play. Radha’s play was a roaring success wherever it was staged, elevating him to an iconic status in the field of theatre. The play was staged not only in south India but also in places like Malaya (now Singapore and Malaysia), Burma (Myanmar) and Ceylon (Sri Lanka) where it met with equal success. Director duo Krishnan Panju who saw the play decided to adapt the play into a full-fledged feature film with Radha reprising the character. The film was produced by National Pictures, which earlier produced the classic Parasakthi (1952).
The film marked the comeback of M. R. Radha to films after 14 years due to a misunderstanding with filmmakers during the shoot of Rajakumara (1937) and he was paid 1.25 Lakhs as the remuneration for the film. M. N. Rajam was selected to portray the vamp Kantha. For the character, Rajam had to put weight. Rajam recalled none of the actresses were willing to portray the negative character, she agreed to play after she was approached by Krishnan-Panju. Rajam said she was hesitant to enact the scene where she had to kick Radha down from the staircase, she later relented after being requested by Krishnan.
The story revolves around Mohanasundaram, a returned-from-abroad, westernized, rich man who shows arrogance and contempt towards anything part of Indian culture and anyone below his social standards. According to Selvaraj Velayutham, Ratha Kanneer was built on a framework of purity and impurity. The title of the film meaning "Tears of Blood" refers to the tears of the wife who is pure. Marja Evelyn Mogk in her book Different Bodies:Essays on Disability in Film and Television wrote that the film pairs "western debauchery with consequent traditional punitive reprisal in form of physical disfigurement" and also noted that the storyline of the film mirrors resemblance to Samba, son of Lord Krishna.
Soundtrack was composed by C. S. Jayaraman while the background music by Viswanathan-Ramamoorthy. Lyrics were written by Mahakavi Bharathiyaar, Bharathidasan, Udumalai Narayana Kavi and Ku. Sa. Krishnamurthy. Playback singers are C. S. Jayaraman, M. L. Vasanthakumari, T. V. Rathinam & T. S. Bagavathi.
The soundtrack was released under the label Saregama. The songs "Kutram Purindhavan" and "Aalai Aalai" were popular songs.
The play inspired an adaptation in Telugu by the Telugu film star C. Nagabhushanam, and later the Tamil film was dubbed into Telugu. After MR Radha's death, his eldest son, M.R.R. Vasu, played the protagonist in the play till his death, and at present donning the character is Radha Ravi. Kannada actor Upendra who saw the film and adapted the film in Kannada for the current trend, he appeared in a lead role. The remake titled Raktha Kanneeru was directed by Sadhu Kokila. The film was released in 2003 and became successful venture.
After the success of the film, Radha became a much sought-after artiste in Tamil cinema. In July 2007, S. R. Ashok Kumar of The Hindu asked eight Tamil film directors to list their all-time favourite Tamil films; J. Mahendran and Balu Mahendra named Rathakanneer as one of the favourite films in Tamil. Mahendran said: "Ratha Kaneer, has progressive ideas and great acting by M.R.Radha". Actor Sivakumar stated that "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." In September 2014, Vijay Sethupathi, in an interview with Sudhir Srinivasan of The Hindu, listed Ratha Kanneer among his favourite films alongside Thillana Mohanambal (1968), Puthiya Paravai (1964) and Rajapart Rangadurai (1973). Lyricist Vairamuthu listed Rathakanneer among his favourite films. In November 2008, Srikanth listed it among favourite films.