The film was launched under on August 2019, whereas principal photography commenced on October 2019 and ended on February 2020. Filming took place at Delhi, Chennai and Karnataka. The music is composed by Anirudh Ravichander, while cinematography and editing are performed by Sathyan Sooryan and Philomin Raj respectively. Originally launched under the tentative title Thalapathy 64, the official title Master was announced on 31 December 2019.
Master was initially planned for theatrical release on 9 April 2020, but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic in India. The makers of the film preferred to wait for a theatrical release, rather than releasing it on any over-the-top media service. After being delayed for several months, the film was released in theatres on 13 January 2021, a day before Pongal.
A young Bhavani (Vijay Sethupathi) watches as his family is burnt to death by his father's rivals. He is then forced into captivity in a juvenile prison by them and intentionally tortured by their order, Bhavani eventually escapes and convinces the man who killed his father to spare him in exchange for a weekly tribute for sparing his life. He then makes his way up racketeering by exhorting money from truckers along with other crimes. He keeps from trouble by forcing children from the juvenile home to take blame for his criminal activities. He eventually takes revenge on the men who murdered his family, maiming them to death.
In Chennai, John "JD" Durairaj (Vijay) is an alcoholic but extroverted professor whose popularity and support for students' interests often gets him in trouble with the college authority. As his relationship with other professors deteriorate, unbeknownst to him, he is signed up as the new teacher to the juvenile center controlled by Bhavani. Despite his initial protest, he decides to go with it anyway and doesn't take his new job seriously. On his second day, he is shocked to see two of the center's children hanging to death in the hall. They were both murdered by Bhavani for declining to falsely surrender on a murder case attempting to contact JD. JD is taken to the local police station for enquiry, where he learns from Chaaru (Malavika Mohanan) , a junior professor from his college, of what is going on in the juvenile center. JD also comes to know that Charu is an NGO
(Non-Government Organisation) volunteer who had to take up teaching to support a case relating to the juvenile home financially and she was the one who had forged his signature to sign up for teaching in the juvenile home since he was the only one capable of understanding the students' interests and reforming them. He is heartbroken when he finds out a letter in his pocket from the two children telling him of their situation and pleading for his help, Bhavani's men eventually arrive at the police station and attempt to exile JD from the town, JD beats them up and warns Bhavani that he will avenge the two children.
JD reforms himself, dumping all his alcohol and gets a make-over. He learns about what goes on in the juvenile center from its workers, with their support as well as help from his students and Chaaru, he begins to attempt reforming the center. Soon love blossoms between Chaaru and JD, while she also learns that JD is an orphan whose traumatic past made caused him to turn to alcoholism and his subsequent partialism towards students. He makes a failed attempt to submit evidence of what goes on in the center to a local magistrate by collecting confessions from the children, but Bhavani's men intercept and destroy the confession clips. JD learns Bhavani's organisation uses a handmark to identify their men and goes around town beating up Bhavani's businesses and men with the same handmark, He also sneaks into Bhavani's place and warns Bhavani's men while unknowingly holding Bhavani himself in knifepoint. The next day, Bhavani retaliates, killing one of JD's friend, leaving JD to break down in pain and swear vengeance. While he is away from the center, Bhavani's men and Das (Arjun Das) drag the students into a container and take them away, leaving only a few of his own men behind, JD confronts Das and his men and make them realize their wrongdoings and learns that the children are being trafficked across the border from them. He successfully intercepts and saves the children, and also manages to convince Das that Bhavani sees Das as a mere liability and will kill him when he realises he lost the children, He is sneaked into Bhavani's meat factory by Das and finally batters and kills Bhavani, avenging his friends' and the children's deaths and securing the other children's safety. The juvenile home is shut down by the government and JD, along with a reformed Das and his men are sent to prison for their vigilantism.
Director Lokesh Kanagaraj and co-writer Rathna Kumar made cameo appearances in a section of the film.
In March 2019, sources claimed that after Bigil (2019), Vijay will be working with Mohan Raja's next film. However, in May 2019, it was also announced that he will be working with Lokesh Kanagaraj for his 64th venture, which will be produced by Xavier Britto. Britto who is a relative of Vijay, produced two films for the actor, Sendhoorapandi (1993) and Rasigan (1994), both directed by Vijay's father S. A. Chandrasekhar. On 22 May 2019, it was reported that Vijay gave a call sheet for 120 days. An official announcement was made on 24 August 2019, by producer Britto, under his newly launched production banner XB Film Creators. Lalit Kumar and Jagadish Palaniswamy co-produced the film. Along with the news, he revealed some of the crew that will work on the film, with Anirudh Ravichander being approached as the music director and Silva for stunt choreography. Sathyan Sooryan and Philomin Raj were retained as the cinematographer and editor respectively for this film, after previously collaborated on the director's Kaithi. Originally launched under the tentative title Thalapathy 64, the official title Master was announced on 31 December 2019.
Principal photography began with a traditional pooja ceremony on 3 October 2019; the film's cast and crew were present at the event. On 4 October, director Rathna Kumar posted on Twitter that he was co-writing the screenplay for this project along with Lokesh. Pon Parthiban, who previously collaborated with Kanagaraj in Kaithi, was signed to co-write the screenplay with Kanagaraj and Kumar. The film's first schedule took place in Chennai for 15 days. Post the completion of the first schedule, the film's team planned for a 20-day schedule in Delhi. Vijay and the film's crew members went to Delhi for the second schedule in November 2019. Stills from the film's shooting spot at Shri Ram College of Commerce in the North Campus, where a song sequence is being filmed, which found its way to the internet, went viral. The film's shoot briefly delayed due to pollution in Delhi. After few pictures from the film's shooting spots were leaked, the team proceeded to have the images removed under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).
The crew went to film few important scenes, featuring Vijay and Vijay Sethupathi at Shimoga district in Karnataka after the Delhi schedule being completed. However, the makers planned to shoot few scenes in Chennai, before the schedule. Shanthanu and Sethupathi went to Shimoga in December 2019. Art director Satheesh Kumar, stated in an interview, that more than 15 sets were made on the film's shoot, with one of them being the Metro train sets, which is being used for the first time in Tamil cinema. The makers went to film fight scenes featuring Sethupathi and Vijay at the Neyveli Lignite Corporation (NLC). However the film's shoot was interrupted twice, when Vijay was summoned by the Income Tax Officials on 5 February, about potential tax evasion, and later on 7 February, when members of Bharatiya Janata Party, protested in front of the NLC. The film's shooting wrapped in February 2020.
The film's soundtrack album and background music is composed by Anirudh Ravichander. The album features eight tracks, with three singles released before the launch, along with four additional tracks. The audio was released at a launch event held on 15 March 2020, at the Leela Palace Hotel in Chennai, with a live telecast being held on Sun TV.
Master was released on 13 January 2021, a day before Pongal, in over 1000 theatres in Tamil Nadu. It was originally scheduled for a release on 9 April 2020, but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic in India. The film was delayed for several months due to the COVID-19 lockdown in India, during which the makers decided to wait for a theatrical release. On 28 November 2020, the producers released a press statement, refuting rumours of releasing the film on any over-the-top media service, and also reiterating plans for a theatrical release, as this decision was crucial for the revival of the film industry, which had suffered unprecedented losses due to the pandemic.
In December 2020, the makers officially announced that the film will be released on 13 January 2021. Additionally, dubbed versions of the film would also release simultaneously in Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam. The advance bookings of the film started from 7 January in limited theatres across Tamil Nadu. The Telugu version of Master was released across 600 theatres in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
Due to the demand of the film's dubbed version in North India, the filmmakers officially announced a release of its Hindi version titled as Vijay The Master, which was scheduled for a release on 14 January 2021, across North Indian theatres. The film received an additional 500 screens in Central India, Rajasthan, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, and East Punjab, for the film's Tamil, Telugu and Hindi versions. The film's digital rights were acquired by Amazon Prime Video.
The film's pre-release business, which includes theatrical, overseas, satellite, digital, music and dubbing rights were sold for ₹200 crore.Master's worldwide distribution rights acquired by S. S. Lalit Kumar of Seven Screen Studios for ₹68 crore, who sold the film to its area-wise sub-distributors: Shri Sai Combines (Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari), Sushma Cine Arts (Madurai), Plus Max Films (Tiruchirappalli and Thanjavur), Sri Raj Films (Salem), Kanthasamy Arts Films Distributors (Coimbatore), 5 Star Senthil (North and South Arcot), Dhanam Pictures (Chengalpattu), Sri Karpaga Vinayaga Film Circuits (Chennai).Prithviraj Sukumaran bought the distribution rights of the Malayalam version of the film, under his Prithviraj Productions banner for ₹6.25 crore. Dheeraj Enterprises and Mahesh Koneru's East Coast Productions, acquired the Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh-Telangana distribution rights for ₹8.65 crore and ₹10 crore, while United India Exporters and Malik Streams bought the overseas rights for ₹29.5 crore. The film's Hindi and North India release rights were sold to B4U Motion Pictures for ₹22-24 crore. Lotus Five Star bought the distribution rights in Malaysia and Singapore.
To promote the film, a new Twitter emoji was launched on the New Year's Day, 1 January 2021. On late December 2020, the makers collaborated with Silaii Sculptures, as their official merchandise partner, launching a new sculpture based on Vijay's look from the film. Later, Fully Filmy unveiled the official merchandise of Master on January 2021. On 8 January 2021, the makers hosted a pre-release event in Hyderabad, to promote the film's Telugu version.
Income tax raid
On 5 February 2020, the Income Tax Department raided Vijay's residence in Chennai and inquired about potential tax evasion, regarding his investment in immovable properties which he inherited from the production studio AGS Entertainment. Vijay was investigated when he was busy shooting for Master in Neyveli. Nearly ₹65 crore was seized by the officials from the AGS Entertainment producer and film financer Anbu Cheliyan's residence. Later, the I-T department said that nothing significant was found during the raid and Vijay has paid all taxes. Member of parliament Dayanidhi Maran accused the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of politically targeting Vijay through IT raids because he was critical of the BJP.
Protests by Bharatiya Janata Party
On 7 February, members of the BJP protested in front of the Neyveli Lignite Corporation (NLC) where the shooting of Master was going on. The BJP members protested against the NLC administration for granting permission for the shoot. Although the film crew had obtained permission for the shoot, the members of the BJP claimed that it is a highly secured area and it's not a place for a movie shoot and also threatened to continue their protests if the shooting did not stop. Soon, Vijay's fans started to arrive in numbers and protested against the party workers. The protesters and the fans left after intervention by the police.
100% theatre seating capacity issue in Tamil Nadu
The makers were given permission to release the film with 100% seating capacity in theatres with forthcoming other Tamil films by the Government of Tamil Nadu after Vijay personally requested chief minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami, despite the increase in COVID-19 cases in India, especially Tamil Nadu. Shortly thereafter, the Central Government of India issued a warrant against the Tamil Nadu government's decision to approve the release of the films with 100% seating capacity. The Central Government stated that 100% seat occupancy is clearly in violation of the guidelines of the Minister of Home Affairs which only allows 50% seat occupancy in theatres. Many doctors also protested against the film having 100% seating capacity. Soon after, Central Government notice was passed and it was revoked back to 50% seating capacity in Tamil Nadu theatres.
Alleged film scene leaks
A day prior to the much anticipated theatrical release on 12 January 2021, some of the film scenes were reportedly leaked by few anonymous people in social media which triggered setback and controversy in the film fraternity. Lokesh Kanagaraj and Malavika Mohanan openly urged the audience not to share the film leaked scenes with others and firmly requested them to watch the film in theatres maintaining relevant safety precautions. Twitter later assisted the production team of the film to find who leaked the film scenes in the internet and it was revealed that a person who worked for a digital company for which the film copy was sold for distribution rights abroad had allegedly stolen the copy of the film and leaked them in the internet.
On 12 January 2021, the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, Egmore directed the CB-CID to file an FIR against the producer Xavier Britto pertaining to copyright infringement. The Court order comes as a result of the case filed by Novex Communications Private Limited, a music copyright company. According to the petitioner, few songs of the film were played at the film's audio launch which took place on 15 March 2020 without acquiring any copyrights from Think Music, one of the clients of the company.
M Suganth of The Times of India wrote, "In the end, it is the charismatic performances of Vijay and Vijay Sethupathi that keeps us rooting." LM Kaushik of Sify wrote, "Despite its pace issues and the length, ‘JD’ Vijay and ‘Bhavani’ Vijay make it worthwhile." S. Srivatsan of The Hindu wrote that although the film is "a bit drag and flab," the film breaks several tropes associated with the "Vijay formula." Ranjani Krishnakumar of Firstpost wrote the film was "only concerned with the hero and the slick stunt choreography" but also notes Vijay Sethupathi puts a "disproportionate effort into his role"
Although its release was pushed to January 2021, Master was listed in the Most Anticipated Tamil Films of 2020, in the articles listed by Firstpost and The Indian Express. The film topped the list of most tweeted hashtags about movies, in a survey report by Twitter India. The #MasterSelfie where Vijay took a selfie along with his fans in a shooting spot from Neyveli, became the most retweeted tweet in India of 2020.
Dhanush tweeted about the theatrical release of Master, in which he asked fans to follow the safety precautions, while watching the film.Silambarasan also requested the same during the audio launch of his film Eeswaran (2021), for fans to watch films in theatres, following the neccesary guidelines for safety. Director Mysskin and actress Raadhika, also praised the actor's decision to release the film in theatres.