Rickshawkaran (Eng: The Rickshaw Man) is a 1971 Indian Tamil-language vigilante film directed by M. Krishnan Nair and produced by R. M. Veerappan, who doubled as screenwriter. Rickshawkaran stars M. G. Ramachandran, Padmini and Manjula in the lead roles. It deals with Selvam, a rickshaw puller who witnesses the murder of another rickshaw puller, and decides to unearth the mystery behind this murder. Rickshawkaran was released on 29 May 1971. It was a major commercial success, with a theatrical run of over 100 days. For his performance, Ramachandran the National Film Award for Best Actor, becoming the first South Indian actor to do so, though he also became the subject of criticism for allegedly using political influence to his advantage. Rickshawkaran was later remade in Hindi as Rickshawala (1973).
Selvam, a rickshaw puller, sees another rickshaw puller Manickam being murdered. The murderer Kailasam’s brother-in-law Dharmaraj, an advocate, also witness the murder but leaves the place silently. Selvam demands justice from Dharmaraj who states that it is his duty to protect his client Kailasam.
Dharmaraj becomes a judge. At a college festival, Kailasam, the college president, sets his eyes on Uma, a student and decides to traffick her to his overseas clients. He orders his subordinate Mannar to kidnap Uma. Uma secretly goes to meet her mother Parvathi in Selvam’s rickshaw and Mannar tries to kidnap her. Selvam fights him and saves Uma, and Parvathi helps her escape. Mannar files a police complaint and Selvam is arrested. During the trial, Parvathi’s silence leads to Selvam being convicted. Dharmaraj bails out Selvam, but Selvam immediately repays and refuses favours from Dharmaraj.
Seeing the harassment Parvathi faces, Selvam invites her to live in his house. While shifting, he sees an old photograph of Parvathi with his sister Kamalam. Since he had studied and worked abroad, Selvam had lost touch with his family. Mannar and his men try to kidnap Uma and she escapes in Selvam’s rickshaw. She doubts that Selvam belongs to the same gang and goes into Dharmaraj’s house. Dharmaraj tells her that Selvam was convicted because of her absence as witness and also that he is educated and has taken up this job for a living. Hearing his good deeds, Uma falls in love with Selvam.
Selvam moves the court on Manickam’s murder case and Kailasam demands Dharmaraj to support him, which he rejects. Kailasam threatens to expose Dharmaraj. He also learns that Parvathi and Uma meet secretly and threatens to expose them. Kailasam’s goon takes a picture of Uma with Selvam, and Kailasam uses it in college to tarnish Uma’s character. When the management demands an explanation, she says that she is not an orphan and promises to bring her mother. Uma takes Selvam along with her to bring her mother and Selvam is shocked to know that it is Parvathi. Parvathi meets Dharmaraj, reveals that Uma is his daughter and seeks his support and Dharmaraj agrees. When Parvathi comes to the college to declare Uma as her daughter, Kailasam brings Karmegham, Parvathi’s husband whose threatening presence silences her again, leading to Uma being dismissed from the college.
Karmegham tries to kill Parvathi, doubting her chastity as she had a baby when he was away serving a jail term and Selvam saves her. Parvathi reveals the facts: Uma is actually the daughter of her friend Kamalam, who was Dharmaraj’s wife and Selvam’s sister. Kailasam, who was keen to get his sister married to Dharmaraj, alleged Kamalam of adultery and made Dharmaraj poison her slowly. Kamalam gave her child Uma to Parvathi and requested her to bring up the child as her own. Karmegham, who returned from prison, saw the newborn and doubted Parvathi’s character and tried to kill Uma. Thus, Uma had threats from both Dharmaraj and Karmegham and she had to bring up Uma secretly. Dharmaraj, out of guilt, confesses Kamalam’s murder to the Chief Justice.
Dharmaraj confesses to Selvam, and when Selvam tries to take revenge on him, Uma shoots Dharmaraj and escapes. Selvam catches her and observes a change in her behavior. Dharmaraj apologises for his mistakes to Selvam before dying. Police arrest Uma, and Selvam works out a plan with the Police and Uma is administered an injection which prevents her from speaking. Uma is kidnapped from the hospital by Kailasam’s men and Selvam, disguised as a driver, follows them. Selvam and the police find out the trafficking activities carried out by Kailasam and the police arrest everyone. Kailasam shoots Uma dead and when he expresses his satisfaction, Selvam reveals that the girl shot dead is actually Kailasam’s lover Rosy disguised as Uma who was sent by Kailasam to kill Dharmaraj. Selvam, who found out this secret, had given an injection to prevent her from speaking and used her as a body double. Kailasam is arrested, while Uma and Selvam marry.
Directed by M. Krishnan Nair
Produced by R. M. Veerappan
Screenplay by R. M. Veerappan
Story by R. M. Veerappan, S. Jagadeesan & Radha Veerannan
Starring M. G. Ramachandran, Padmini, Manjula
Music by M. S. Viswanathan
Cinematography V. Ramamoorthy
Edited by C. P. Jambulingam
Production Sathya Movies
Release date 29 May 1971
Running time 162 minutes