In Hyderabad, two rival mafia gangs headed by Dubai-based don Ali Bhai, and Narayana resort to criminal activities such as extortion, murder, and coercion for various reasons. The new commissioner of police, Sayyad Mohammad Pasha Qadri, focuses on making the city a better place by working at arresting all of them. Pandu, a remorseless gangster living in Hyderabad along with his friends, is hired by Narayana and attacks Ali Bhai's henchmen. He later joins Ali Bhai's gang for monetary reasons. He falls in love with Shruti, an aerobics teacher, who rejects his advances.
Shruti lives with her widowed mother and brother and her neighbour Brahmi, a software engineer, who pesters her to marry him. A corrupt police officer named Pasupathy, who works for Ali Bhai, is attracted to Shruti. He is determined to make her his mistress, undeterred by Shruti's multiple rejections. After Pandu kills a henchman of Narayana, he is confronted by Pasupathy and is able to prevent Shruti from being molested. She meets him the next day to thank him, and Pandu introduces himself as a self-employed person who undertakes any activity for money. They develop unspoken romantic feelings for each other angering Pasupathy.
Shruti's employer, Suryanarayana, suggests that she marry the man she loves. To repel Pasupathy's advances, she meets Pandu and proposes to him. After an attack by Narayana's henchmen, who are murdered by Pandu, he reveals that he is a gangster and suggests that she might want to rethink her proposal. After Shruti distances herself from Pandu, Pasupathy frames her with a mock sexual assault by a few gangsters unbeknownst to her family and the other villagers. He intends this act to ruin her life and subsequently force her to be his mistress. Learning this, Pandu confronts Pasupathy and warns him that he will face dire consequences if he is found guilty of being involved.
Ali Bhai visits Hyderabad and assassinates Narayana. He meets Pandu to discuss the murder of a minister by blowing up a balloon. Pandu rejects this as it would involve killing innocents. At the same time as they are arguing, Qadri arrests Ali Bhai and tortures him. Ali Bhai's henchmen retaliate by filming Qadri's daughter as she is enticed into sexual activity by the minister's son, and release it to the media. They also kidnap her, forcing the police to release Ali Bhai. At the same time, Pandu manages to catch the gangsters who pretended to rape Shruti and she reconciles with him.
Qadri's daughter is sedated and reveals that an undercover police officer, whose father's name is Suryanarayana, had infiltrated the gang for some time. Ali Bhai kills Suryanarayana's son Ajay, assuming he is the informant. However, Suryanarayana reveals that Ajay was his adopted son, and that Pandu is actually Krishna Manohar I. P. S., his biological son, who had infiltrated his gang at Qadri's direction. Suryanarayana is killed and Manohar forces Pasupathy to kill Ali Bhai before he initiates his plan to set off bombs across Hyderabad.
Manohar kills Ali Bhai's henchmen one by one at Binny Mills. Ali Bhai offers Pasupathy a hefty sum to kill Manohar but his attempt fails. In a final confrontation, Manohar kills Ali Bhai by slitting his throat. Qadri's daughter is saved and when Pasupathy tries to backstab Manohar, he is shot dead by the latter who then says, "Okkasari commit ayitte, naa maata nene vinanu" (English: Once I commit myself, I'll never back off).
In 2004, after Andhrawala 's commercial failure, its director Puri Jagannadh planned a film titled Sri Krishnudu from Surabhi Company starring Chiranjeevi in the lead role. He later decided that explaining the story to Chiranjeevi, talking him into accepting the role, and filming the movie, would be a long, tiring process. He chose instead to revive the script of Uttam Singh S/O Suryanarayana which he had written during the production of Badri (2000). He approached Pawan Kalyan to play the lead role, but he declined it. Later, he approached Ravi Teja who agreed to play the lead; Nagendra Babu was to produce the film. However, Teja was approached by Cheran, an award winning director, to remake the 2004 Tamil film Autograph in Telugu. Teja was eager to be involved in the remake as he liked the original very much. As a result, the production Uttam Singh S/O Suryanarayana was temporarily shelved. Jagannadh meanwhile directed and produced 143 (2004). Teja had backed out of participating in it citing scheduling conflicts with other existing commitments. Jagannadh wanted to experiment by casting Sonu Sood in the lead role but this too failed to materialise.
On 3 November 2004, Jagannadh met Mahesh Babu at the Taj Hotel in Hyderbad to outline the film's plot. It told the story of Uttam Singh, an undercover police officer, infiltrating a mafia gang as a criminal, with the intention of killing its kingpin. Mahesh liked the script but suggested Jagannadh tweak the script's backdrop to suit the Telugu-speaking peoples' sensibilities. Jagannadh agreed and also replaced the existing title with Pokiri. Mahesh wanted the film's production to begin in 2005 allowing him to complete his current commitments. While he waited for Mahesh, Jagannadh directed Akkineni Nagarjuna in Super (2005). While reworking the script, Jagannadh took inspiration from Marana Mrudangam (1988) and State Rowdy (1989). Pokiri was produced jointly by Jagannadh and Manjula Ghattamaneni's production companies, Vaishno Academy and Indira Productions respectively, on a budget of ₹100—120 million.
For Pokiri, Mahesh sported a longer hair style than in his previous films and shed five kilograms of weight. He used a new wardrobe and the same pair of shoes throughout the film. Jagannadh wanted to cast Ayesha Takia as the female lead. Due to a last minute change, the makers opted to replace Takia and considered several actresses including Deepika Padukone. Jagannadh approached Parvati Melton to play the female lead. She declined the offer because, at that time, her parents were against her decision to become an actress. He also approached Kangana Ranaut who could not accept the role because of scheduling conflicts with the filming of her scenes in Gangster (2006). After seeing stills of Ileana D'Cruz in her Telugu debut Devadasu (2006), Jagannadh signed her as the female lead since he needed a girl who looked like a teenager to play the role of the aerobics teacher.
Prakash Raj and Ashish Vidyarthi were cast as the film's primary antagonists. Raj played a mafia kingpin and Vidyarthi played a corrupt police officer, a villain's role he finds more fun to play than that of a hero. Sayaji Shinde and Nassar played the two other principal characters in the film. Jyothi Rana played the role of the mafia kingpin's moll, marking her debut in Telugu cinema. Isai and Subbaraju portrayed negative roles as well, with the former also making his debut in Telugu cinema. Ali played the role of a beggar and shared screen-space with Brahmanandam and Venu Madhav. Jagannadh added this trio to the film to provide situational humour. Master Bharath played the role of D'Cruz's brother. Mumaith Khan performed an item number in the film.
Jagannadh wrote the film's story, screenplay and dialogue with Meher Ramesh assisting him as script associate. Though having worked with Chakri many times in the past, at Mahesh's suggestion, Jagannadh instead chose Mani Sharma to compose the film's music. Shyam K. Naidu was the film's cinematographer and Marthand K. Venkatesh its editor. Chinna and Krishna were the film's art director and executive producer respectively.
Pokiri was shot predominantly in and around Hyderabad, especially in the Annapurna Studios, the aluminium factory near Gachibowli, Gayathri Hills and the Golconda Fort in 100 working days, from November 2005 to April 2006. Most of the scenes were shot in a single take though it took time for Mahesh to adjust to Jagannadh's style of filmmaking. Chennai-based stylist Chaitanya Rao designed the costume styling for Mahesh and D'Cruz. By late February 2006, eighty percent of the film shoot had been completed with the film's climax and two songs remaining. This made it Mahesh's fastest shot Telugu film with him in the lead role.
The song "Gala Gala" was shot in the province of Phuket in Thailand, and the city of Bangkok. Prior to the filming of the song "Jagadame", Shyam K. Naidu was busy on the set of Munna (2007) and was unable to shoot it so cinematographer K. V. Guhan, who had worked on Mahesh's Athadu (2005), was recruited instead. The film's climax sequences were shot in March 2006 at the defunct Binny Mills located in Chennai under the supervision of FEFSI Vijayan. He suggested that Jagannadh include a scene where Prakash Raj fails to hear anything for a while after he is hit by Mahesh during the climax sequence.
Mahesh stated in an interview that he had to shoot the film's climax and two songs continuously for thirty-eight days, adding that he had to visit a hospital to be treated for shoulder pain. During the shooting of an underwater sequence, a few electrical lights were used. The electricians changed the lines, creating a short circuit which resulted in the death of one of the unit members. Mahesh had gotten out of the pool two seconds before the accident happened which he termed a "miracle".
The official soundtrack of Pokiri was composed by Mani Sharma, with lyrics written by Bhakarabhatla, Kandikonda and Viswa. Jagannadh wanted Sharma to compose six songs, with two duets between the lead pair, three solo numbers by the male lead, and an item number. During the shoot of Sivamani (2003), Jagannadh listened to the song "Listen to the Falling Rain" which sounded like the song "Gala Gala Parutunna Godarila" from the Telugu film Gowri (1974). He later came to learn that the latter song was inspired by the former, and he decided to reuse the same tune with modernised instruments and different lyrics. Sharma was accused of copying the tune of the song "Jaleo" composed by Ricky Martin for the song "Devuda" sung by Naveen.
The film's soundtrack, marketed by Aditya Music, was released on 4 April 2006, at Hotel Viceroy in Hyderabad with Mahesh's father Krishna attending the event as the guest of honour. Sify called the soundtrack a peppy one and chose "Gala Gala" as the pick of the album. IndiaGlitz called it a "run of the mill" album that lacks freshness. The reviewer chose "Devuda", "Gala Gala" and "Ippatikinka" as the picks of the album, rating each 3.5 out of 5. Cinegoer rated the soundtrack 3 out of 5 stars and stated: "The first time you hear Pokiri, the sound of it is good; it doesn't start to grow on you after a while, but a few of the numbers are hummable and ring in your ears", calling it a "mixed bag for Mani Sharma". The reviewer chose "Dole Dole" and "Gala Gala" as the picks of the album, rating each 3.5 out of 5.
Pokiri was scheduled for a worldwide release on 21 April 2006. Due to delays in post-production activities, the film's release was postponed to 28 April 2006, clashing with the release of Bangaram and Veerabhadra. The film received an 'A' (Adults only) certificate from the Central Board of Film Certification for containing obscene sequences and excessive violence. Dil Raju's Sri Venkateswara Creations, Mallikharjuna films and Great India films acquired the theatrical distribution rights of Nizam, Ceded and overseas regions respectively. Pokiri was one of the fourteen southern Indian films that were screened at the IIFA film festival 2006 held at the Dubai International Convention Centre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Reviewing the film, The Hindu wrote: "An out and out action flick, one can see the director's thirst to cash in on the audience craze for such films. Nevertheless it's Mahesh Babu's show all the way." Regarding Mahesh's performance in the film, Y. Sunita Chowdary of The Hindu wrote: "Mahesh's understated performance in Pokiri allows him to effortlessly reclaim the title of a star, overshadowing more questionable recent career choices". Sify stated that Pokiri was designed as a: "mass masala extravaganza which satisfies the undemanding viewers". The reviewer added that Mahesh's screen presence works to the advantage of the film.
Rediff.com stated: "Sporting a new, rugged look, 'Prince' Mahesh Babu has stolen the show. He carries the film on his shoulders, consolidating his winning streak after last year's Athadu. Another highlight of the film is its well-choreographed action sequences (if you can digest the violence), which give it a slick look." IndiaGlitz gave a positive review stating: "In Pokiri, the hero is introduced to us a ruthless baddie, part of the huge underbelly of mafia. By the time we come to the denouement, there is much twist and turn. If you like some racy action, fun, glamour and love, then Pokiri would be your kind of film."
According to Sify, Pokiri took an "extraordinary" opening across the globe and was able to cash in on the four-day weekend holiday. Pokiri was released in a single screen, the Jayaprada theatre in Chennai, where 98.5% of seats were sold putting it in second place in the city's box office chart, which Sify called an "awesome" feat. The film completed a fifty-day run on 17 June 2006, in nearly 300 centres and had earned US$350,000 to become the highest grossing Telugu film in the United States. By July 2006, the film had earned approximately ₹350—400 million and become the highest grossing Telugu film of all time. The film earned ₹120 million in the Nizam region alone, breaking the previous record set in the region by Indra (2002) and earned approximately ₹25 million at the United States box office.
The film completed a 100-day run in 200 centres and a 175-day run in 63 centres. The film completed a 200-day run in 15 centres, and a 365-day run at a theatre in Kurnool, becoming the first Telugu film to do so in the last two and a half decades. The film was screened in Bhagiratha theatre, Kurnool for 500 days at the rate of four shows per day and collected a share of ₹6 million. In its lifetime, Pokiri grossed ₹660 million and collected a distributor share of ₹420 million at the global box office. It held that position until 2009 when Magadheera pushed it to second place after its nine-day run.
The film has been remade in various languages across India. The film was remade into Tamil as Pokkiri by Prabhu Deva featuring Vijay and Asin in the lead roles, and marked Deva's debut as a director of Tamil cinema. Deva remade the film into Hindi as Wanted in 2009 featuring Salman Khan and Ayesha Takia. Wanted became the second highest grossing Hindi film of all time at that point. Pokiri was remade into Kannada as Porki in 2010 by M. D. Sridhar featuring Darshan and Pranitha Subhash in the lead roles.
Pokiri's success elevated Mahesh to super-stardom and brought recognition to Jagannadh as a writer and director. The sequences featuring Brahmanandam as a software engineer, the comedy track of Ali and Brahmanandam, Mahesh asking D'Cruz to give him upma at the railway station were acclaimed. The fashion trend of wearing doctor sleeves increased in Andhra Pradesh after Mahesh sported them and they continue to influence fashion even today. After the film's release, many films were released subsequently that had titles bordering on cuss words including Jagannadh's next film Desamuduru (2006). Mahesh revealed that he became confused after the film's success:
It was such a huge hit, that if someone came to me with a script, I would approach the result of the film before approaching the character. I only wanted to act in movies that were like Pokiri, I think that was a mistake. It all got to me and I felt that I needed a break from films itself. Initially, I wanted just a seven-month break. I signed Khaleja after nine months, but it just kept getting delayed and the break ended up becoming a two-year-long holiday. But I didn't freak out... I relaxed for the first time in life.
Pokiri was D'Cruz's breakthrough film in Telugu. In June 2006, Trade analyst Sridhar Pillai said that the Andhra Pradesh trade felt that her glamour, screen presence, and on-screen chemistry with Mahesh worked to the film's advantage. Pillai called her the "new pin-up girl of Telugu cinema". Talking about being typecast after her success in Ye Maaya Chesave (2010) as its female lead, Samantha Ruth Prabhu cited the example of D'Cruz being typecast in similar roles after the success of Pokiri saying that it had become mandatory for her to wear a bikini in every film since.
Pokiri was parodied by several films. In Desamuduru, the character Gudumba Shankar, a saint played by Ali, is seen imitating Mahesh's mannerism from the song "Dole Dole". Brahmanandam's introduction scene in the film Jalsa (2008) is a spoof of Mahesh's introduction as a police in Pokiri. The same sequence was spoofed in the films Sudigadu (2012) where the protagonist is named Shiva Manohar I. P. S., and also in Race Gurram (2014). In Dookudu (2011), Mahesh is briefly seen as a film director who makes Prithviraj and M. S. Narayana recite the dialogue "Evvadu Kodithe Dimma Thirigi mind block aipodhdho, vaade Pandugaadu" from Pokiri. The protagonist in Eega (2012), a fly, imitates Mahesh's mannerisms from the song "Jagadame" after injuring the antagonist played by Sudeep.