An anonymous woman dies while giving birth. Her child is found and raised by the caretaker of the graveyard. The child, named Chithan (Vikram), grows up among corpses with minimal human contact is perhaps more feral than autistic. He growls like a wolf, runs like a gorilla has the unkempt appearance of an orangutan but he seems to understand loyalty and is despite his circumstance, a social animal. He ventures into a town in search of food and gets into trouble as he doesn't understand the concept of money. He is rescued by Gomathi (Sangeetha), a petty Ganja seller. She sees his ability to be loyal and enrolls him into the service of her employer, a large scale ganja producer. Chithan is caught during a drug raid and sent to jail.
Shakthi (Suriya) is a conman with a silver tongue.He gets into trouble when he cons Manju (Laila) into losing all her personal effects in a game of dice. Shakthi gets sent to jail thanks to Manju's detective work. Shakthi meets Chithan in jail and starts protecting him out of sympathy and pity. Chithan starts to reciprocate to Shakthi's kindness with the only way he knows, by being as loyal as a dog.
Shakthi serves his term and then butts heads with the Ganja producer to get Chithan out of jail as well. Chithan gets out but commits a crime when he obeys his master's instruction to burn the body of a murder victim. Shakthi, realizing that Chithan is being used as accessory in crimes he cannot comprehend, prevents Chithan from going back to working in the ganja fields. At the same time, a budding romance starts between Shakthi and Manju. Chithan too starts to see a shared spirit in Gomathi.
The Police catch a wind of the murder and arrest Chithan. Shakthi gets Chithan to side with the police and goes against the Ganja producer. The Ganja producer attacks Shakthi when Chithan isn't around. The Ganja producer kills Shakthi and dumps his body in the middle of the road. Chithan doesn't understand that Shakthi is dead and zones out to outer space when everyone surrounds him. Gomathi, Manju and the others are crying and beating their chests in agony. Gomathi sees Chithan's confusion as indifference and she angrily drives Chithan away from Shakthi's body.
Chithan slowly starts to understand that Shakthi is dead as he sees him on the funeral pyre. His realization is complete when he wakes up in the morning next to the burnt remains of Shakthi's corpse. He experiences emotions he has never experienced before: fury, agony, betrayal and emotional pain. His body bears the scars of a million bruises and his violence has always been self-defense and the defense of his masters. The realization of the meaning of death and the pain of losing a loved one breaks the feral chains that had wound up on his psyche.
Chithan sets out like a man intent on destroying the world. He sets fire to the ganja fields, lets the Ganja producer experience the pain of his loss and then sets upon destroying him physically.He drives him through the street, taking his time breaking a few bones at a time till he is done toying with him. Then he kills him and offers his body as a tribute to Manju who now has lost her will to live.
Gomathi realizes what Chithan has been through and tries to get him to stay. However, Chithan turns back to the world of the graveyard among the corpses that cannot hurt him anymore.Vikram as Chithan
Suriya as Shakthi
Laila as Manju
Sangeetha as Gomathi
Karunas as Karuvaayan
Manobala as Sakthi's Uncle
Ganja Karuppu as Ganja Kuduki
T. P. Gajendran as Director
Stun Siva as Police Inspector (special appearance)
Simran as herself in a special appearance
After Nandha, Bala announced his next project Pithamagan with Vikram and Surya, heroes of his previous films who received popularity after struggle. For Gomathy's role, Bala selected Simran and confirmed her for the role by printing her name in invitations,but she was hurry to finish all her commitments due to her wedding plans and she accepted to give only 3 days call sheet to make special appearance initially which was offered to Jyothika. After that Vijayashanti, Malavika and Gayatri Jayaraman were considered but at last Rasika was selected for the role and also changed her name back to Sangeetha.
The soundtrack album was composed by Isaignani Ilaiyaraaja. The lyrics were penned by Vaali, Palani Bharathi, Na. Muthukumar and Mu. Metha.
Telugu track list
All lyrics written by Vanamali.
The film was released on 24 October 2003, coinciding with Deepavali. The film released alongside Vijay's Thirumalai, Ajith's Anjaneya and Arjun's Ottran.
The film received unanimous critical acclaim particularly for Vikram and Surya's performances. Malathi Rangarajan of The Hindu praised Vikram as "Without any dialogue to support him he carves a niche for himself in the viewer's mind with his expressions and excellent body language" and Suriya as "Who would have thought that this young man, pitted against the serious Chithan, would prove so perfect a foil?" going on to declare the movie as "..a symphony on celluloid". Balaji Balasubramaniam of Thiraipadam.com reviewed as "With unique characterization, tremendous performances and a smooth screenplay, the movie offers a satisfying experience to the discerning viewer..." and noted "Vikram pretty much lives the role of the undertaker. With dry and streaked hair, dirty teeth and torn clothes, he looks the part and though he doesn't utter a word, he conveys everything through his expressions and body language". A reviewer at Sify.com noted, "..it is the expert performance of the lead actors that elevate the film above the commonplace".
Film critic Baradwaj Rangan remarked, "Bala’s ingeniousness is evident everywhere .... And he gets tremendous support from his leads...It all adds up to a first-rate film that excoriates as much as it entertains". Ilaiyaraja also received praise for his musical score, "Ilaiyaraja adds unmeasurable strength to many of the scenes with his background music". "The captivating numbers vouch for the fact that the Raja reigns supreme".
The film has won the following awards since its release:
National Film AwardsWon – Silver Lotus Award for Best Actor – Vikram
Filmfare Awards SouthWon – Filmfare Best Film Award (Tamil)
Won – Filmfare Best Director Award – Bala
Won – Filmfare Best Actor – Vikram
Won – Filmfare Best Actress – Laila
Won – Filmfare Best Supporting Actor Award – Suriya
Won – Filmfare Best Supporting Actress Award – Sangeetha
Tamil Nadu State Film AwardsWon – Best Actor – Vikram
Won – Best Actress – Laila
Won – Best Supporting Actress – Sangeetha
The film was remade in Kannada as Anatharu with Upendra and Darshan in the lead and released on 14 September 2007. Repeating the success of the original, the film received favorable reviews and applause for Upendra's performance.
The film is also to be remade in Hindi. Director Satish Kaushik have bought the remake rights of the film. Incidentally, Satish had earlier directed Salman Khan in Tere Naam, the Hindi remake of the Bala-Vikram film Sethu. Once again, Satish has approached Salman Khan to reprise Vikram's role. However the project failed to materialise.
Karunas who acted in the film did a spoof on Vikram's character in a film called Ennamo Pudichirukku (2004). Surya's character as petty thief from Maayavi (2005) was compared with character from Pithamagan.