The film released on 14 January 1997 coinciding with the Tamil festival of Thai Pongal alongside Mani Ratnam's political drama film Iruvar, and though both films initially opened to a lukewarm response, Minsara Kanavu eventually emerged triumphant at the box office. After audiences were initially unhappy with the sad climax of the film, distributors reverted and used an alternate ending which had also been shot for the film. A critic from Indolink.com gave the film a positive review, stating that "Minsara Kanavu is again a triangular love story with a little difference. It has good entertainment value, awesome cinematography and execellent songs and choreographed dances."
The film was dubbed and released by ABC Films on 26 October 1997 in Hindi as Sapnay to capitulate on Kajol's popularity in Northern India, earning above average reviews from critics. However the version failed commercially with reports suggesting that "bad dubbing" was the reason of failure and Rajiv Menon subsequently opted against dubbing his next film, Kandukondain Kandukondain (2000) in Hindi.
Minsara Kanavu went on to win four National Film Awards, three Tamil Nadu State Film Awards and a Filmfare Award mostly for the film's soundtrack. The soundtrack earned A. R. Rahman the National Film Award for Best Music Direction for the second time, while he also secured his fourth Tamil Nadu State Award and his sixth consecutive Filmfare Award for his work. K. S. Chitra and S. P. Balasubrahmanyam won the National Film Award for Best Female Playback Singer and Best Male Playback Singer for the tracks "Ooh La La La" and "Thanga Thamarai" respectively. While Sadhana Sargam and Hariharan were nominated for Best Female Playback Singer and Best Male Playback Singer respectively for the song "Vennilave". Sujatha and Unni Menon won the Tamil Nadu State Film Award for Best Female Playback and Best Male Playback for two different tracks, "Poo Pookkum Oosai" and "Ooh La La La" respectively. Meanwhile Prabhu Deva won the National Film Award for Best Choreography for his work in the song, "Vennilave".
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