In Madurai, veteran rooster trainer Periyasamy aka "Pettaikaaran" and Madurai Central Police Inspector Rathnaswamy are tough competitors in cockfights, and it is often Pettai who wins because nobody knows his way of maintaining the quality of the birds. Rathnasamy and Pettai were once protegees of grand veteran Doraisamy, who has retired from active competition but is the overlord of rooster fighting in South Tamil Nadu.
K. P. Karuppu and Durai are the favourites in Pettai's team. Karuppu is very talented in breeding and training roosters, while Durai is very rich, owns three bars in the town of Thiruparankundram, and is talented in cock training. Rathnaswamy keeps insisting on having one last fight to win and satisfy his old mother's wish, but Pettai declines to have any more fights with him because he feels that Rathnaswamy has lost faith in his roosters and will be using nefarious methods to win. Rathnaswamy keeps insisting and tries to make him accept the challenge through cajoling, threatening, bribing, and other vile acts.
Karuppu falls in love with an Anglo-Indian girl named Irene, who dislikes him. He does not recognize this initially and keeps following her. One day, the residents of Irene's colony confront him and ask Irene to tell who she is in love with – Karuppu or Dinesh, another man in the locality. She points her finger at Karuppu, and he goes into rapture. She explains later that she had to lie in order to avoid Dinesh, who has been bothering her for a long time. Later, Irene too falls in love with Karuppu.
Meanwhile, Rathnasamy tries to cajole Ayub, Pettai's veterinarian for roosters, to get Pettai to come for a competition against himself, in exchange for a heavy amount. Ayub refuses and insults Rathnasamy. The same night, Ayub is killed in a hit and run accident. Durai initially suspects Rathnaswamy, and all of Pettai's gang wants revenge, but Pettai decides to conduct a state tournament in Ayub's name and provide his family with funds so that Ayub's poor daughters can be married. He asks permission from Rathnasamy as the police have to permit it, but Rathnaswamy refuses, manhandles, and berates Pettai as a thief. In a rage, Pettai, suspecting Rathnaswamy of the murder, agrees to the one-on-one rooster fight that Rathnaswamy has been asking for so long. He bets that he will field his roosters against every rooster that Rathnaswamy brings to the field in the following tournament, and even if one of Pettai's roosters loses against Rathnaswamy's, Pettai will tonsure his head and face, publicly apologize to him, and will quit rooster fights. If Rathnaswamy is not able to beat at least one of his roosters, the same conditions will be applied on him, at the end of the day. Finally getting his way, Rathnaswamy permits the tournament.
The grand state tournament is arranged by Pettai's team, getting heavy funds and official permission. In the initial 11 fights, Rathnasamy's roosters are defeated by Pettai's. Rathnasamy brings high-bred roosters from Bangalore and enters them into the tournament. Seeing the quality of new roosters, Karuppu asks Pettai to let his rooster fight, but Pettai puts his rooster down and says that he will choose the best competing rooster himself. Karuppu surreptitiously enters the contest as Pettai's team before Pettai can choose the rooster because he needs to repay Irene for the loan he took to prepare his rooster for the fight. Pettai does not believe in Karuppu and his rooster announces that Karuppu will not represent Pettai, and the result of Karuppu's match will not be acknowledged by his team. However, the 'underdog' emerges victorious in three consecutive rounds, despite facing roosters spiked with steroids. Karuppu gets the best coach award of the tournament and his bet money of ₹10 lakh (equivalent to ₹18 lakh or US$22,000 in 2020).
While initially happy that Karuppu won, Pettai is soon overcome with anger and jealousy. His ego is hurt by the fact that Karuppu earns both popularity and money, by refuting his judgement. Karuppu is not aware of the changes in Pettai's mind. Pettai is at first refusing to speak to anyone and then starts scheming. Karuppu gives Pettai the money from the competition for safekeeping, which he plans to use to start a business, but it goes missing. Pettai also starts spinning stories about his associates and makes everyone suspicious of each other. He incites Karuppu and Durai into pitting their roosters in a fight. Meanwhile, Karuppu's mother dies from the shock of losing all the money. Pettai poisons Durai's roosters, making him suspect Karuppu, who is arrested for this. Pettai then lies to Irene that his wife was in an adulterous relationship with Karuppu. Irene's family also pressures her to move to Chennai, which pushes her into attempting suicide. Pettai, meanwhile, calls Karuppu to a location near a temple and informs Durai about his whereabouts. When Irene recovers, she calls Karuppu and informs him that Pettai is badmouthing him, so Karuppu goes to find Pettai and confront him. Karuppu finds that Pettai was the one who stole his money, and a guilt-ridden Pettai kills himself. Karuppu does not wish to reveal the fact to the public that Pettai stole his money and schemed against him, so he flees with Irene to start a new life in another city, leaving the money with his friend.
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