Priya Amal Raj (Kajol) lost her mother at a very young age. She is friendly, outspoken, sensitive, yet precocious. Priya is brought up by her dad, Amal Raj (Girish Karnad) who is a clothing industrialist. Since her childhood, Priya is interested in singing, music and church.
Thomas Thanga Durai (Arvind Swamy), a polite, well mannered NRI business man, returns to India from America to look after his father's James Thanga Durai's (S. P. Balasubrahmanyam) business. Thanga Durai is a former associate in Amal Raj's business, and now establishes his own business empire in the same vicinity, opposite to Amal Raj's factory. He boasts of his sons achievements. However, Amal Raj dislikes Thanga Durai's ill-mannered, clumsy and bizarre antics though Thomas and Priya have known each other in their childhood.
Thomas, happens to meet Priya at her school when he goes to a woman's hostel to see his aunt, Mother Superior (Arundhati Nag) a nun in that school church. Thomas takes Priya's help in surprising his aunt with a gift on her birthday. In the process, Thomas falls in love with Priya but is unable to confess his love for her. Priya has been brought up in a convent school and wants to become a nun, much to the horror of Thomas and Priyas father. Meanwhile, Amal Raj tries to pull Priya into wedlock through setting up match making with some suitors like Jaipal (Prakash Raj), David (Ranvir Shah) etc., but he fails to fix an alliance for his daughter. In the midst of this, Thomas's friend Shiva takes him to hairstylist Deva (Prabhu Deva) who is notorious at changing women's minds. Deva befriends Priya to change her mind about being a nun.
At one instance, Priya performs singing at a Gala along with Deva's troupe, which puts the troupe into the limelight of a recording theatre owner. Deva requests Priya to join his aspiring music troop as a singer and help them achieve the group's aspiration for a film audition and Priya agrees to it. Deva with his musical troupe (Nassar and his group) play tricks to make Priya fall in love with Thomas, but fails to turn Priya's mind towards Thomas. Instead, Deva himself falls in love with Priya and she reciprocates.
Complications arise when Priya falls in love with Deva instead, and at the same juncture, Thomas confesses his love to Priya and reveals the shocking truth behind Deva's association with Priya. Torn between the two men, a broken-hearted Priya decides to vow for Nun trainee and fails to fulfill her promise for the group's music audition. Thomas realises this at the end and sacrifices his love. Thomas and his Aunt convince Priya out of celibacy and marry Deva. Thomas becomes a priest as he naturally leads a life of service to the poor, sacrifice and mental chastity.At the climax, it is shown Deva and Priya get their daughter baptised by Thomas.
AVM Productions wanted to make a film to commemorate its 50th anniversary in 1997 and signed on Prabhu Deva to play a lead role and A. R. Rahman to score the music for this unplanned project, but Rahman was initially reluctant as he had scored music for three of Prabhu Deva's films in the recent past. The producers revealed that they were looking for a new director and Rahman suggested the name of cinematographer, Rajiv Menon to make his directorial debut, after the pair had previously collaborated in jingles for many ad films. Menon thought about the offer for two months and was ultimately convinced by Rahman and Mani Ratnam, who he had been working with in Bombay (1995), to sign the project. Arvind Swamy was then signed up for a role as was Hindi actress Kajol, to make her debut in Tamil films. Kajol revealed that she found dancing alongside Prabhu Deva difficult and took up to twenty retakes and thirty rehearsals for a particular song. Nassar, often seen in intense roles, was signed to play a bubbly character in the film and described the shoot as a "delightful experience". Veteran actors Girish Karnad and V. K. Ramasamy were also added to the cast as was singer S. P. Balasubrahmanyam, who had previously appeared in father roles in Kaadhalan and Kadhal Desam. Actress Arundhati Nag and Prakash Raj also formed part of the cast, while then-assistant director Gautham Menon appears in a cameo role. It was dubbed in Telugu as Merupu Kalalu.
The film was shot in 1996 with two songs and the climax being shot at Lawrence School Chapel, Lovedale. Prabhu Deva suffered a throat infection during post-production works and Vikram, then a struggling actor, dubbed for his character, Kitty dubbed for Girish Karnad while Revathi dubbed for the non-Tamil speaking Kajol.
The film was released on 14 January 1997 coinciding with the Tamil festival of Thai Pongal alongside Mani Ratnam's political drama film Iruvar, and though both films initially opened to a lukewarm response, Minsara Kanavu eventually emerged triumphant at the Tamil Nadu box office, and a dubbed Telugu version, Merupu Kalalu had a good opening in Andhra Pradesh. After audiences were initially unhappy with the sad climax of the film, distributors reverted and used an alternate ending which had also been shot for the film. A critic from Indolink.com gave the film a positive review, stating that "Minsara Kanavu is again a triangular love story with a little difference. It has good entertainment value, awesome cinematography and excellent songs and choreographed dances."
The film was dubbed and released by ABC Films on 26 October 1997 in Hindi as Sapnay to capitulate on Kajol's popularity in Northern India, earning above average reviews from critics. However the version failed commercially with reports suggesting that "bad dubbing" was the reason of failure and Rajiv Menon subsequently opted against dubbing his next film, Kandukondain Kandukondain (2000) in Hindi.
Minsara Kanavu went on to win four National Film Awards, three Tamil Nadu State Film Awards and a Filmfare Award mostly for the film's soundtrack. The soundtrack earned A. R. Rahman the National Film Award for Best Music Direction for the second time, while he also secured his fourth Tamil Nadu State Award and his sixth consecutive Filmfare Award for his work. K. S. Chitra and S. P. Balasubrahmanyam won the National Film Award for Best Female Playback Singer and Best Male Playback Singer for the tracks "Ooh La La La" and "Thanga Thamarai" respectively. Meanwhile, Sadhana Sargam and Hariharan were nominated for the same National Awards for their rendition of "Vennilave Vennilave". Sujatha and Unni Menon won the Tamil Nadu State Film Award for Best Female Playback and Best Male Playback for two different tracks, "Poo Pookkum Oosai" and "Ooh La La La" respectively. Meanwhile, Prabhu Deva won the National Film Award for Best Choreography for his work in the song, "Vennilave".
1996 National Film Awards (India)Silver Lotus Award - Best Music Direction - A.R.Rahman
Silver Lotus Award - Best Choreography - Prabhu Deva - "Vennilavae" and "Strawberry Kannae"
Silver Lotus Award - Best Male Playback Singer - S. P. Balasubramaniam - "Thanga Thamarai"
Silver Lotus Award - Best Female Playback Singer - K. S. Chithra - "Manna Madurai" ("Ooh La La La...")
1996 Tamil Nadu State Film AwardsBest Music Director - A. R. Rahman
Best Female Playback Singer - Sujatha - "Poo Pookkum Oosai"
Best Male Playback Singer - Unni Menon - "Manna Madurai"
1996 Filmfare Awards SouthBest Music Director Tamil - A. R. Rahman
The soundtrack features 6 songs composed by A. R. Rahman, with lyrics by Vairamuthu. The Hindi version of the soundtrack was titled Sapnay and had lyrics penned by Javed Akhtar, with a new song titled "Teri Meri Baat" was added to this version. The song "Ooh La La La" was re-edited by A. R. Rahman and featured on the hit international musical production Bombay Dreams, which ran in Europe and North America from 2002 to 2005. The track "Vennilavae (Part 2)" was a sad version of the song "Vennilave" and was sung by Shankar Mahadevan and Kavita Paudwal and this track was featured in the movie only. For the choir music in the film, Rahman used Sankarabharanam raga. The song "Anbendra Mazhayile" is based on Ananthabhairavi raga.
S. P. Balasubrahmanyam recalls the recording session of "Thanga Thamarai", mentioning that "it required a tone that reflected the feelings of someone totally smitten and intoxicated by love. The character singing the song in the film is on a high after finding his girl. I only tried my best to imitate Rahman, who sang it for me. The imitation fetched me a national award." Playback singer Kay Kay once again sung for Rahman after he was introduced by Rahman through the song "Hello Doctor". There is also a Telugu dubbed soundtrack, Merupu Kalulu.When A. R. Rahman chose Chitra for the track "Ohh La la", he advised her not to sing as usually as she does, but asked her to open her voice completely and sing the track. Chitra completely followed A.R.Rahman's advice and sang the track, which made her win National Award for Best Playback Singer Female.
All lyrics written by Vairamuthu; all music composed by A. R. Rahman.
All music composed by A. R. Rahman.
All music composed by A. R. Rahman.