Marudheeran (Vijay) is the adopted son of a tribal village chief Vembunathan (Prabhu). From a young age, he notices the atrocities regularly committed on the villagers by a group of people from the neighbouring kingdom of Vedhalapuram called the Vedhalams, who have supernatural powers. When he becomes an adult, he starts to protect the villagers from the Vedhalams, because of which he is well respected by the villagers.
Marudheeran falls in love with his childhood sweetheart Pavazhamalli (Shruti Haasan) and both soon decide to marry. One day, Pavazhamalli is kidnapped by a group of Vedhalams, who then ransack the village and also kill Vembunathan. Marudheeran, along with his close friends Kodangi (Thambi Ramaiah) and Sama (Sathyan), begin a journey to Vedhalapuram to rescue Pavazhamalli. During the journey, Marudheeran rescues Manthagini (Hansika Motwani), the princess of Vedhalapuram, from a panther. This is noticed by Jalatharangan (Sudeep), the Commander-in-Chief of Vedhalapuram. On the pretext of being medicine makers, Marudheeran, Kodangi and Sama enter the Vedhalapuram palace, where they meet Yavanarani (Sridevi), the cruel Queen of Vedhalapuram who is also a sorceress. She allows them to stay at the palace and soon Marudheeran wins the support of the Queen and the love of Manthagini with his fighting prowess and resilience. Yavanarani announces the engagement of Marudheeran with Manthagini.
Later, Marudheeran finds out that he himself is a Vedhalam. Marudheeran was the son of Pulivendhan (Vijay), the late prince of Vedhalapuram and Yavanarani's younger brother. When he stood up to Jalatharangan, who used to terrorise the citizens of Vedhalapuram with the help of his henchmen, Jalatharangan killed him and his wife Pushpa (Nanditha). Marudheeran also finds out that Yavanarani is actually a puppet Queen under the influence of evil magical power emanating from Jalatharangan's ring. Due to the evil magical influence, Yavanarani developed magical powers as well as her tyrannical behaviour. She performs yearly Kanya Puja to boost her magical powers. After Yavanarani performs the Kanya Puja for the eighteenth consecutive year (this time on Pavazhamalli), Jalatharangan has planned to eliminate her and take over the throne.
Marudheeran fights Jalatharangan and kills him, avenging his father's death. But before he dies, Jalatharangan opens his ring, releasing all the evil magical power so that Yavanarani could continue to rule Vedhalapuram as a tyrantess without his control after his death. Marudheeran realises that the Queen can be returned to normal only if her staff, which is the source of her magical power, is destroyed. He and Manthagini find her performing the Kanya Puja on Pavazhamalli. After a bitter sword fight with the Queen, he manages to destroy the staff, thus restoring the Queen to her normal self. In gratitude for releasing her from the evil magical influence, Yavanarani makes Marudheeran heir to the throne of Vedhalapuram.
Chimbu Deven was reported to be working on a "fantasy film set in contemporary times" in January 2011 for UTV Motion Pictures and Dhanush was subsequently signed on to play the leading role. The film was titled as Maareesan, with G. V. Prakash Kumar and Kathir signed on as composer and cinematographer respectively, while the team revealed filming would start in late 2011. Genelia D'Souza and Hansika Motwani were confirmed to play the leading female roles in the film, while Vadivelu was also reported to be a part of the cast. However, in October 2011, UTV Motion Pictures left the project citing the escalating budget and Aascar Films replaced them as producers. The project later failed to take off, and the actor and director moved on to work on other ventures. During the production of his Oru Kanniyum Moonu Kalavaanikalum (2014) in late 2013, Chimbu Deven restarted preliminary work on the fantasy film and narrated the script to Vijay, who expressed interest in being a part of the project. Subsequently, the project found producers in P. T. Selvakumar, Vijay's press relations officer, and Shibu of Thameen Films, who have previously distributed several of Vijay's films across Kerala. The two producers came together to form a new production house SKT Films and announced that production would begin after the completion of Vijay's work in AR Murugadoss's Kaththi (2014).
Although early reports suggested that A. R. Rahman would be the film's music composer, the team later confirmed Devi Sri Prasad had been signed. Natarajan Subramaniam chose to continue his work as a cinematographer with the film, despite his acting success in Sathuranga Vettai (2014), revealing he was excited to work alongside such an ensemble cast. T. Muthuraj was announced as the film's art director and began work alongside his commitments in Shankar's I (2014), while lyricist Vairamuthu also joined the crew. The team also picked five costume designers to take care of clothing for the actors, with Manish Malhotra, Deepali Noor, Chaitanya Rao, Siva and Sai all brought on board. Furthermore, four stunt choreographers were selected to take care of action scenes with international technicians Sang Lin and Pradit Seeluem, brought in to work alongside Sunil Rodrigues and Dilip Subbarayan. National Award winner, R.C Kamalakannan was signed on to be in charge of the film's animations and special effects, PhantomFx a Chennai-based vfx company known for movie Indru Netru Naalai, handled most of the vfx shots and the rest were split among several studios. Chimbu Deven subsequently worked on finalising the script of the film between January and August 2014. Chimbu Deven and cinematographer Natarajan Subramaniam scouted locations in Kerala in August 2014, finalising schedules in Chalakudi and Nelliyampathy.
In April 2014, reports suggested Kannada actor Sudeep was approached to play a parallel leading role in the film, while contrasting reports noted he would play the lead antagonist. Sudeep later confirmed his participation in the film, adding it would see him in a "first of its kind" role. The team then successfully signed on actress Sridevi to portray a supporting role of a princess in the film, with the actress appearing in a Tamil film for the first time in 29 years. Another senior actor, Prabhu, also signed on after being approached by the director to portray a character role.
Chimbu Deven revealed that the film would feature two leading female roles to appear alongside Vijay. Initial reports had linked Priyanka Chopra and Deepika Padukone to the roles, but high remuneration subsequently meant neither were signed. Shruti Haasan confirmed that she had signed the film in July 2014, making a comeback to Tamil films after a two-year hiatus following 3 (2012). Hansika Motwani was also added to the cast thereafter to portray a princess, the daughter of Sridevi's character Thambi Ramaiah and Vidyullekha Raman were also selected to portray roles in the film, while comedians Sathyan, Robo Shankar and Imman Annachi joined the team in the first schedule. A press release in early January 2015 added actors Naren, Vijaykumar, Ali, Karunas and Joe Malloori to the film's cast. In April 2015, Nandita joined the cast to play a small and pivotal role, after Bhavana had turned down the offer. Gayathri Raman stated that she had portrayed Shruti's mother in the film.
The team began filming on 10 November 2014 at the Adityaram Studios on the East Coast Road, Chennai, where a song featuring Vijay and Hansika Motwani was shot in a set replicating a castle put up by art director, T. Muthuraj. The team then set up base in Pannaiyapuram for a forty-five-day stint, with hundreds of extras and technicians gathered from neighbouring states. A second schedule continued throughout December after which it was reported that the film was twenty percent complete. After a Christmas break, production restarted in early January 2015, and carried on in the outskirts of the city until mid-January. Reports which suggested that the team had secured permission to film at the Mysore Palace was dismissed by the makers as speculation.
The film had begun shoot without a title and had been widely referred to in the media as Vijay 58. Other titles such as Garuda, the script's original name Maareesan, Maru Dheeran and Por Vaal were also registered by the producers, while finalising on a title. The team consequently confirmed the title as Puli in early January 2015, after having bought the rights from director S. J. Surya.
The North and South Arcot Area distribution rights were bought by Sri Thenandal films. Ayngaran International purchased the overseas rights while Thameens purchased the Kerala distribution rights. The Karnataka distribution rights were purchased by Producer and director S. Narayan. The audio rights were bought by Sony Music India. The satellite rights of the film were sold to Sun TV for a record price of ₹22 crore (US$3.4 million).
The first trailer for Puli was released online on 19 August. The trailer became the most liked Indian trailer on YouTube, beating the previous record held by Kick.
Forbes stated that the film received an "onslaught of negative reviews" for its "plotting, pace, acting, music, and story logic" but praise for the costumes and visual effects. Entertainment news website Behindwoods praised the production design and visual effects of the film but criticised the screenplay, rating the film 2.75/5. The Times of India rated the film 2.5/5, stating "Puli (Tiger) is your Indian cinema version of Gulliver and the Lilliput's fairy tale. A lavishly mounted fantasy adventure, at the core it is basically a love-story." Latha Srinivasan of Daily News and Analysis gave the film 2.5/5 stars, deeming the film a "visual treat" with a disappointing screenplay. She praised the cinematography, visual effects and performances of the cast, but criticised the story, noting that the genre might be new for Tamil cinema, but "the story is not something new and it moves at such a slow pace that it gets tiring to watch in places." Fullhyd.com rated the film 4/5, writing "Puli makes for some lightweight entertainment if you enjoy these fantasy films with a few thrills. Your child may like it more, though." Nowrunning.com rated the film 2/5, writing that "Puli is a mundane fantasy thriller which never manages to captivate the attention of audiences." Koimoi.com rated the film 2/5, stating "If you are a die-hard Vijay fan then you may but if you are looking for something unique, the film will fail you. It creates an illusion of being smart but in reality, it lacks any kind of logic." Bharath Vijayakumar from Moviecrow.com rated the film 2.25/5, calling it "A Roaring Whimper." Bollywood Hungama rated the film 2/5, writing "On the whole, PULI is a strictly average fare. Watch it if you are a Sridevi or a Vijay fan. Otherwise, this fantasy is a bore fest." Saibal Chatterjee from NDTV rated the film 2/5, writing that "Puli gets two stars for ambition and scale, but none for execution." Raja Sen rated the film 1.5/5, writing "Clearly Puli needs you to make (or carry) your own entertainment." Mumbai Mirror rated the film 1.5/5, writing "Fantasy films allow defying logic, physics and biology, as long as it fascinates. This one makes a jaded attempt to recreate tested ideas and wages a war against one's brain cells." The Indian Express rated the film 1.5/5, writing "The bigger the film doesn't always mean the greater it is, and there can't be a better example of this than Vijay's big-budget fantasy drama "Puli", which isn't a bad film, but worse." Greatandhra.com rated the film 1.5/5, writing "Puli Doesn't Roar, Meows." APHerald rated the film 1.5/5, stating "Overall, 'Puli' is one giant abysmal joke." India Today rated the film 1.5/5, stating "Vijay's fantasy film tries hard to roar but ends up squeaking." Mumbai Mirror rated the film 1.5/5, writing "Fantasy films allow defying logic, physics and biology, as long as it fascinates. This one makes a jaded attempt to recreate tested ideas and wages a war against one's brain cells."
Mid Day rated the film 1.5/5, writing "Not fair to compare, maybe, but one cannot help it. 'Puli', at best, looks like the poor, underfed cousin of 'Bahubali', the other fantasy film that we were treated to not so long ago. The setting is almost the same. Kings, queens, waterfalls and forests and a newborn child being found in the ocean, but Puli proves that director Chimbu Deven doesn’t even remotely share the grand vision of SS Rajamouli’s." Gautaman Bhaskaran of Hindustan Times gave the film 1/5 stars saying, "Chimbu Deven could have thought of something better than this juvenile romp into fantasy land." Both Baradwaj Rangan of The Hindu and S Saraswathi of Rediff.com gave negative reviews. Both critics also stated that several dialogues of Vijay were meant as declarations of political intent. Rangan wrote, "Put differently, Chimbu Deven has forgotten to make a movie for adults." Comparing Puli with Baahubali, another historical fiction film, he said that there was "a sustained commitment to storytelling" in the latter, which was missing in Puli. At Rediff.com, Saraswathi praised Sridevi's performance but criticised that of Vijay's, saying, "Vijay, however, is not at his best. For most part, he seems awkward." IBNLive rated the film 1/5, writing "If adventure is your genre, and Sridevi your fantasy, I’ll wholeheartedly recommend K. Raghavendra Rao’s ‘Jagadeka Veerudu Athiloka Sundari’ in which Sridevi is joined by Chiranjeevi on a whirlwind tour of fantasy, games, childish humor, action, and terrific music by Ilaiyaraaja. Coming to Puli, it’s clearly a case of misguided shot." Shubhra Gupta rated the film 1/5, writing "After the spectacular Baahubali, we were all set for an encore with ‘Puli’, yet another period fantasy from the South. But this one is a crashing bore." Indiaglitz rated the film 2.75/5 and concluded, "Despite some drawbacks and disappointments, 'Puli' ends up as a decent fantasy entertainer that will be specially liked by Children and Vijay who retains his form and charm as always lives up to his mass appeal" Martin D'Souza from Glamsham rated the film 0/5, writing "After BAHUBHALI, which rocked Indian cinema a few months ago, I was looking forward to another treat from the south. Alas, this was just paper dosa served with exotic accompaniments."
On the first day, it collected ₹100.75 million (US$1.6 million) in Tamil Nadu . It grossed around ₹280.6 million (US$4.4 million) worldwide on its opening day Forbes stated that an film tax and poor reviews had not impacted the box office collections. In the second day the movie grossed ₹270.2 million (US$4.2 million) wordwide.
However, it is reported according to International Business Times that the film performed badly in its 3rd week at the Box Office in overseas. The traders analyse that the unimpressive screenplay played the spoilsport for Puli, due to which, the film received negative responses and it struggled to overcome them but, it failed to post a good score at the box office.
The film's soundtrack was scored by Devi Sri Prasad.Tamil version