Prabhu (Dhanush) is a happy-go-lucky middle-class family guy who spends time playing carrom in the streets with his friends Sathish (Santhanam) and Kumar (Karunas). His father (Murali) and him keep falling into minor misunderstandings, and he indulges in a hopeless romance with a strange girl Hema (Divya Spandana) who he meets at a bus stop. When he is caught in the act of stealing a pittance from his father for booze with his friends, Prabhu questions his father’s responsibility towards his upbringing. His angry father gives Prabhu some of his savings and tells him to do something with his life. Prabhu purchases a Bajaj Pulsar bike instead and finds a job. The bike eventually saves his life from a freak incident and gets lost, subjecting him to interminable anguish as he searches for his bike. When his family members asks him about his bike, he tells them that he has given it for dealer service.
Prabhu comes into conflict with the underworld when he witnesses a brutal murder planned by a gang in Kasimedu in North Chennai by a smuggling don Selvam (Kishore) and his accomplices. Prabhu finds out that his bike was stolen by a petty bike thief who turns out to be in connection with Selvam's younger brother Ravi (Daniel Balaji). Prabhu traces down the culprit as Sendrayan and hands him over to the local police station. A formal complaint is lodged on Sendrayan on the same night. Later that night, Prabhu confesses to his family that his bike was stolen. His family is very upset with him due to his irresponsible behavior. The next morning, Ravi visits Prabhu's residence and threatens him to withdraw the complaint against Sendrayan. When Prabhu refuses, a fight breaks between Prabhu and Ravi, where Ravi is joined by few of his accomplices, Prabhu manages to fight them all and leaves Ravi beaten and embarrassed among the public. Selvam returns home in bail after a murder charge. When he finds out what happened to Ravi, he gets furious and sends his henchmen to kill Prabhu without knowing the reason for his brother's embarrassment. Meanwhile, Prabhu, along with his friend and auto driver Kumar, meets Selvam at his own residence in Kasimedu. Ravi is not home at that time. Prabhu tells the truth to Selvam, but refuses to believe that his brother Ravi and his men stole his bike. After hearing from his close ally Out (Pawan), Selvam believes Prabhu, apologizing for what happened and promises Prabhu that he will do whatever he can to get his bike back, but it was too late for Prabhu's father, who receives the attack from Ravi's men. He was admitted in a hospital, and Prabhu breaks down after knowing that his father may never walk again after his right leg is paralysed by the attack. Selvam, Ravi, and their men visit Prabhu to condole and apologize for what happened this time. Prabhu turns down the apology and again an immediate fight was about to break between Prabhu and Ravi before Selvam separates them both. Although he wants to stay away, Prabhu invariably gets dragged into rubbing shoulders with the criminals who now target his family to seek revenge.
Prabhu's bike was caught by Anti-Narcotics wing police and they nab Prabhu, suspecting him of drug smuggling in his bike. They release him after Prabhu tells them that his bike was stolen and shows them his FIR copy. But he doesn't tell them about Ravi or Selvam. Now Prabhu learns that his bike was stolen by Selvam's men to escape from a murder scene, but it was Ravi who smuggled drugs in his bike's petrol tank. Prabhu loses his job as an employee in his workplace since his bike was a source of transportation, and as he was kept at police custody for one night. Prabhu also gets despair from Hema's father for being involved unwillingly with Selvam's men. Ravi makes one more attempt at Prabhu's life, but he was snubbed again by Prabhu. Selvam becomes unhappy about this and warns him to quit smuggling if he ever gets in Prabhu's business anymore. Ravi accuses Selvam of being a non-caring brother, and Out intervenes and warns Ravi to mind his language. Then surprisingly, Selvam himself comes in support of his brother to lash out at Out. Out separates briefly from Selvam after this conflict. The next day, Selvam and Ravi get attacked by unknown gangsters when they were traveling in their car outside the city. Selvam asks his brother to stay inside the car and handles the killers on his own. He gets brutally injured only to find out that he's been stabbed on back by his own brother Ravi. The attack was arranged by Ravi himself to kill Selvam. Ravi delivers the killer blow before telling that Selvam is too complacent of Prabhu and he's going to kill him after killing Selvam. Selvam dies. Ravi creates a scene among Selvam's family, henchmen, and Out that he's not aware of who launched the assault on Selvam. Out gets furious and vows to kill every enemy of his mentor Selvam including Prabhu.
Prabhu gets his bike back and was relieved for a brief time before coming to know what is going on and Ravi is after him and his family. He first goes to save Hema. After securing her, he goes to save his family. He thinks the only way to stop this is to confront Ravi himself. he takes down all the men sent by Ravi who comes in his way. Meanwhile, Prabhu's family were chased down in Kumar's auto-rickshaw by Ravi's men. Prabhu finds Ravi hiding in an ice factory and engages him in a fight. Prabhu gets Ravi under the knife, threatening him to ask his men to leave Prabhu's family. Ravi does so. When Prabhu is about to leave, Ravi provokes him to continue the fight until death. Prabhu manages to dodge Ravi's swing of his knife and gets a steel rod to fatally knock down Ravi. Out arrives at the scene. Surprisingly he tells Ravi that he discovered Ravi's conspiracy of killing Selvam before Ravi dies. Prabhu leaves the scene in his much beloved Pulsar bike.Dhanush as Prabhu
Daniel Balaji as Ravi
Kishore as Selvam
Divya Spandana as Hema
Murali as Prabhu's Father
Bhanupriya as Thilaga
Santhanam as Sathish
Karunas as Kumar
Akhila as Uma
Boys Rajan as Hema's father
Chetan as Prabhu's Boss
Pawan as Out
Daniel Annie Pope
Vetrimaaran who earlier worked as an assistant to Balu Mahendra, prepared a script for Dhanush, who has the lead hero of the films he worked in, and Dhanush immediately accepted the offer after hearing the story. The film titled Desiya Nedunchalai 47 was initially launched with Yuvan Shankar Raja as the music director and Ekambaram as the cinematographer. After he found trouble finding producers with A. M. Rathnam and Salem Chandrasekhar leaving the project after initial interest, Dhanush's sister Dr. Vimala Geetha agreed to produce the film, but she also dropped the film. Dhanush's father Kasthuri Raja finally agreed to produce the film and Kirat Bhattal was signed as heroine, while Harris Jayaraj was selected as music director. However, after two days of shoot the film was shelved and Dhanush opted to pursue other films after the surprise success of his Thiruvilayadal Arambam. The film's collapse saw Vetrimaaran approach producer Kadiresan and narrated to him the stories he had prepared but the producer did not like Desiya Nedunchaalai 47, but agreed to work on another project titled Polladhavan.
Vetrimaaran has since described that he had "ample time" for he production works of Polladhavan as "Dhanush had confidence in him". Production designer Durai helped him rope in G. V. Prakash Kumar to score the film's music, while Dhanush also recommended cinematographer Velraj to Vetrimaaran after the pair had worked together in Parattai Engira Azhagu Sundaram. Vetrimaaran chose Kannada language actor Kishore to make his Tamil film debut after his assistant gave him rave reviews of the actor's performance in the unfinished Prashanth-starrer Petrol. The team held test shoots with both Kajal Aggarwal and Poonam Bajwa for the film and released the stills to the media, but Vetrimaaran was still unsatisfied and finished two schedules before finalising on Divya Spandana. The director revealed that there was initially an issue with the actress after she got offended by his words and did not come for the shoot for three days, before Durai intervened. The film's story was inspired partly by the lost bike of his friend Andrew and the variety of experiences he had tracking down his vehicle. Vetrimaaran revealed that when he wrote the script, he made many changes to suit the visual medium and for Dhanush on his physical attributes while playing an action hero. When questioned about its relevance to Bicycle Thieves, he stated that it "is a disgrace to Bicycle Thieves if it is compared with Polladhavan".
The satellite rights of the film were sold to Sun TV. The film was given an "A" certificate by the Indian Censor Board.
The critic from Sify.com stating that "Vetri has made his mentor proud, and his style of narration and takings are very similar to the ace director [Balu Mahendra]". The reviewer from The Hindu stated that "at no point does Polladhavan sag and that writer-director Vetrimaran has slogged through his screenplay and the result shows." Nowrunning wrote:"'Polladavan' is a typical Dhanush flick, which is not even distantly related to Rajinikanth's "Polladavan." The script is obviously tailor-made for Dhanush but it is no different from gangster movies, which make audiences feel jaded".The movie received four Vijay Awards, including one for Best Director.
Polladhavan was remade in Kannada as Punda and in Telugu as Kurradu starring Varun Sandesh but it could not repeated the success of the original version. It was remade in Sinhala as Pravegeya too with Sri Lankan actors Hemal Ranasinghe and Udari Perera in the lead roles. This film was also remade in Bengali film Borbaad (2014) directed by Raj Chakraborty with debutant Bonny Senguta and Rittika sen.
The soundtrack consisted of five song, three of them composed by G. V. Prakash Kumar, while rapper Yogi B and Dhina composed each one track. The song Engeyum Eppodhum is a remix of the same-titled song from the 1979 film Ninaithale Inikkum. Responding to allegations that the song Minnalgall Koothadum was a rip-off of Akon's Smack That, Prakash Kumar stated "I may have been inspired but I did not just copy that song".