Madhavan began his acting career with television guest appearances, including a role on the Zee TV prime-time soap opera Banegi Apni Baat in 1996. After appearing in commercials and in small roles, he later gained recognition in the Tamil film industry through Mani Ratnam’s successful romance film Alaipayuthey (2000). Madhavan soon developed an image as a romantic hero with notable roles in two of 2001’s highest grossing Tamil films, Gautham Menon’s directorial debut Minnale and Madras Talkies’ Dumm Dumm Dumm. He worked with Mani Ratnam again in the critically acclaimed 2002 film Kannathil Muthamittal playing the father of an adopted girl, whilst he achieved commercial success with his role in N. Linguswamy’s action film, Run (2002). Madhavan was cast alongside Kamal Haasan in the 2003 drama Anbe Sivam, which earned him two notable awards for Best Supporting Actor. In 2004, he gave a critically acclaimed performance as the antagonist in the multi-starrer Aayutha Ezhuthu and the film secured him his first Filmfare Award for the intense portrayal of a rogue.