P. Bharathiraja has won himself a lot of accolades for portraying the sensitive and realistic village life in his films. In his younger days, he was very much interested in literature and deer hunting. He began his professional career as a sanitary officer in the PHD (Public Health Department) in the year 1963. He always dreamt of making his career in film making. He wrote, directed and acted in a drama called "Oor Sirikkirathu". This was his first drama.
To make it big, he relocated to Chennai and with the help from his friends he staged his dramas titled "Adhigaaram" and "Summa Oru Kadhai". He also directed music programs and radio dramas. For the living, he used to work at a petrol bunk. He entered the Tamil film industry with the help of the noted singer S.P. Balasubramaniam.
He began his cinematic career by assisting Kannada film director Puttanna Kanagal and Tamil film maker P. Pullaiya. After which, he served as an assistant to noted directors like Avinasi Mani, Krishnan Nair, and A. Jaganathan. He finally became an independent director when he got the offer to direct the Tamil film 16 Vayathinile in the year 1977. Thus, he made his directorial debut with 16 Vayathinile. The film was highly influential and it earned him a lot of applauses.
He then directed Kizhakke Pogum Rail which was a smash hit at the box-office but along with appreciation it also brought some criticism that his films are based on catering only the village audience. After being a victim of such criticism, he directed Sigappu Rojakkal which was a story about psychopathic woman hater and this film proved his versatility as a director and also put his name among the best directors of Tamil film industry.
He then experimented further by directing films such as Tik.. Tik.. Tik and Nizhalgal. Though these films did good business at the box-office but films based on rural themes was his forte as some of the biggest hits of his career such as Mann Vasanai, Muthal Mariyathai, and Alaigal Oivathillai were all based on rural themes. He was highly appreciated for giving poetic touch in his film Muthal Mariyathai. The film had stars like Radha and Sivaji Ganesan and it was one of the biggest hit of not just Bharathiraja’s career but also in Sivaji Ganesan’s acting career as well.
After tasting some great success in the decade of the 1980s, he continued the same in the decade of the 90s. He now experimented to target the youth audience and did so successfully with his films like Karuththamma and Kizhakku Cheemaiyile. His film Karuththamma was named after his mother and it was his mother who received the National Award for this film on his behalf. He won yet another National Award for his film Anthimanthaarai in the year 1996. His film Kadal Pookal also won the national film award under the category of Best Screenplay. One of the noted film directors of Tamil language films, Bhagyaraj has served as his assistant before turning an independent director.