National Award winning filmmaker Santhana Bharathi's career spans around four decades, in the course of which he helmed over a dozen Tamil movies before segueing into acting in the mid-1990s. The son of yesteryear actor M. R. Santhanam, he started out behind the camera with the 1981 romantic drama Panneer Pushpangal, which he co-directed with P. Vasu. After collaborating with the latter in movies like Mella Pesungal (1983), Sahasame Jeevitham (1984) and Needhiyin Nizhal (1985), Santhana Bharathi made his independent directorial debut with Kadamai Kanniyam Kattupaadu (1987). The definitive works of the director's career could well be the Kamal Haasan starrers Guna (1991) and Mahanadhi (1994), the latter of which won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Tamil that year.
Though he made his acting debut in the Sivaji Ganesan starrer Satyam (1976), it wasn't until the latter half of 1990s that Santhana Bharathi forayed into cinema as a full-time actor. Since then, he has appeared in over 70 films across all major South Indian film industries, primarily in supporting roles. Notable among these are Anbe Sivam (2003), Vasool Raja MBBS (2004), Dasavathaaram (2008), Unnaipol Oruvan (2009) and Siruthai (2011). Other significant acting credits in recent times include the comedy-drama Oopiri (2016), the sports comedy Chennai 600028 II: Second Innings (2016), Kalakalappu 2 (2018), the 2018 bilingual horror thriller Kanam (a.k.a. Diya) and the comedy Tamizh Padam 2.