In the early 1970s, at the end of a rickshaw competition the winner, Selvam (MGR), an ex-military officer, witnesses a murder, that of another driver of rickshaw named Manickam. With his girl Soussi in the arms, this one was chased, killed and burned on the spot by a notable of the region, merciless Ka��lasam (S. A. Ashokan). The latter imagines above the laws for a very good reason, he is defended by effective Dharmaradj (Major Sundarrajan) who is also his brother-in-law. Dharmaraj knows perfectly the weaknesses of the judicial system and does not hesitate to exploit them in defiance of the morality. Meanwhile, Selvam got back the orphan girl Soussi and wants now that justice is returned for the girl and his deceased father. But nice Selvam is very far from suspecting that behind this murder hides in fact a vast network, specialized trafficking in persons, especially women led by vile Ka��lasam. Noticing that the justice is ineffective, Selvam decides to tidy up there in his own way.
In 1968, the Puja was held with the heroine for the film not being finalised at that time and Pandari Bai playing the role of M. G. Ramachandran's sister, Parvathi. After the completion of the first schedule of the principal photography, the film's shooting was delayed due to conflict of views on the selection of the heroine. In 1969, Kasilingam and Pandari Bai were replaced with M. Krishnan Nair and Padmini respectively. Regarding the female lead, Ramachandran wanted Jayalalithaa for the role while R. M. Veerappan, the film's producer, wanted to include a newcomer to break the proximity between Ramachandran and Jayalalithaa. The result went in Veerappan's favour and Manjula Vijayakumar was cast as Uma. Ramachandran disliked the song "Azhagiya Tamil Magal" and requested Veerappan to remove it, but after Veerappan convinced him, the song was retained.
Two years later, in 1973, under the same banner (Sathiya Movies) and on Rickshawala title, took out the Hindi version of Rickshawkaran, directed by MGR's friend, K. Shankar with in the principal roles, the actor Randhir Kapoor and the actress Neetu Singh.
MGR presents us with a mythical scene at 2.38.47, according to DVD : "Makkal Thilagum" MGR uses with all its dexterity and perfection, an Indian bladed weapon, Surul Pattai (������������������ ������������������������������������ in Tamil), a sword, constituted by a grip generally with a swept hilt protecting the hand and from a pommel, followed by the blade, here compound of several flexible hoses and thus extremely cutting!
The sequence where the " Makkal Thilagum " MGR protects the actress Mandjula of the good-for-nothings, of its rickshaw, without coming down there, while driving it, with a stick, became from its release, on 29 May 1971, cult ! Preceded by a dialogue of electrifying MGR ! It is situated in approximately 45 minutes and 52 seconds of the beginning of the movie, according to the copies of the DVD!
Rickshawkaran possessed a first version, already with MGR, turned during the first half of the 60s, a black & white movie. But she did not become a reality. It was necessary to wait almost for a decade so that the project is reactivated and led to its term, in 1971. At that time, MGR did not lead a cycle rickshaw, but pulled a pulled rickshaw.
The film was a major commercial success, playing for 163 days at the Devi Paradise theatre, and for 100 days at 12 other theatres all over Tamil Nadu. To celebrate the film's success, Ramachandran gave raincoats to around 6,000 rickshaw drivers in Chennai.
Ramachandran won the National Film Award for Best Actor for his role, the first South Indian actor to do so. He initially considered returning it, on account of being criticised for allegedly using political influence to his advantage, but relented when the committee explained its reasons for awarding him. Sivaji Ganesan praised M.G.R. for receiving national award. He said "Brother MGR receiving the award from north, like Cheran Chenguttuvan took the stone from Himalayas to built a temple of Kannagi , after defeating north rulers".
The music composed by M. S. Viswanathan.
A digitally re-mastered version of the film is expected to be released on 17 January 2017, during M. G. Ramachandran's centenary.