Atluri Pundarikakshayya made Mahamanthri Timmarasu with NTR, and after a hiatus of four years expressed a desire to work together again. NTR wanted something with the Rayabharam poems in it, and also declared that it would be the last time he portrayed Lord Krishna. Indeed, without a doubt he was the most convincing Lord Krishna ever!
The rights of the Rayabharam poems were bought from Ramanujam Shetty of Nellore. NTR felt that a complete Krishnavataram, i.e., from the birth to the end of the Krishnavataram would be excellent for his final Krishna portrayal. Atluri was obviously nervous, thinking about the number of actors required, the production costs and other large scale necessities to embark on such a major spectacle. So NTR teamed him up with Kanakamedala Tirupataiah, who also had some dates with NTR and started Tarakarama Pictures. Kamalakara Kameswara Rao directed this magnum opus.
The movie covers all episodes of Krishna's life. Krishna's birth, his captive parents and the prediction that Kamsa would be killed by Devaki's eighth child makes the first episode. After defeating Kamsa, he marries Rukmini, fights with Jambavantha to procure the Samanthaka Mani and gets his daughter Jambavanthi's hand in marriage. Satrajit, who initially proclaims that Krishna has the Mani regrets his mistake and gives his daughter Satyabhama's hand in marriage to Krishna.
After Sisupala completes his 100 sins, he defeats and kills him, thus regaining his entry back to Vishnu's abode. Kuchela's episode is followed by Draupadi's humiliation where Krishna saves her honor. The great war of Kurukshetra takes place after the negotiations (Rayabharam) between the cousins fails. Krishna's Geetopadesam to Arjuna is also shown. Finally he saves Bheema from Dhritarastra's ire after Bheema kills Duryodhana and Balarama wades deep into the ocean after the gory war while Lord Krishna ends his Avataram owing to a hunter's mistake.
After analyzing the works of Bhagavatam and Bharatam, Samudrala Raghavacharya wrote the script taking in all the major events of Krishnavataram. TV Raju composed the music, which included 10 songs and 25 poems. Poems from the famous play Pandavodyogam were used too. Ghantasala was taken ill after developing a sinus problem, but insisted on being there to render the poems. If he died while reciting the poems, at least he would have the satisfaction of dying while reciting Krishna's poems, he reasoned with a concerned and horrified Atluri. Even C. Narayana Reddy was down with the flu when he wrote the war song.
SV Rangarao was the first choice to play Duryodhana, but the role went to Kaikala Satyanarayana. Kantha Rao was the first choice for Narada, but the role was finally played by a skeptical and hesitant Shobhan Babu. Harikrishna played the role of the young Krishna after Atluri saw a play starring him as Krishna in Gudiwada. NTR's eldest son was then residing with his grandparents, away from the spotlight in Madras. NTR was hesitant to let him work, but later gave in. Till the episode of Krishna lifting the Govardhana Giri, Harikrishna debuts and takes all the screen space as young Krishna.
The movie had immaculate production values and was shot in a budget of over 10 lakhs. It was also shot in record time, even with the perfectionist NTR insisting on re-shooting some portions he was not satisfied with. The movie was a huge hit. But unfortunately on the fourth day of the release, Tirupataiah passed away. The movie was a bigger success in Karnataka than here; when the movie was re-released in 1982 and 1990, both times it finished the 100-day mark. All the other artistes also got due credit along with NTR. Kameswara Rao's direction, Ghantasala's poems and watching the whole story of Krishna's Avataram was very much appreciated by audiences and the movie remains a must-watch.