Strangely, the actor, whom you think suits comedy better, shines in sober parts. He proved it with his sad and serious demeanour in Azhagarsaamiyin Kudhirai that won him National recognition. And once again he shows that serious characters with a little of levity become him. In fact, in the opening scenes of Mannaaru (U), Appu Kutty’s attempts to tickle the funny bone fall flat. But he makes up for it in the sentimental sequences. After quite a while, Thambi Ramaiah, another National Award winning actor, gets a chance to project his talent in lyric and dialogue writing, in Mannaaru. His dialogue lends spontaneity to the entire narration. And the humour that runs through even the serious scenes is a highlight.

This story of the innocent vagabond Mannaaru (Appu Kutty) opens on a rather light note and gains momentum once he signs as witness for the marriage of his friend at the registrar’s office. The girl Anjali (Swathi), who is forcefully engaged to a local political bigwig, elopes with her lover and gets married to him. As expected goondas come chasing the couple … Clichéd, you begin to think, but from this point, intelligent twists in the story, a fairly neat screenplay and deft direction transport Mannaaru to an engaging plane.

Once he decided to cast Appu Kutty as the protagonist, first-time director Jaishankar seems to have done the rest of the casting with care. The character of Mallika (Vaishali), the girl who pines for Mannaaru and is even willing to die for him would have appeared ridiculous, if she had been shown as the typical heroine. But Vaishali is a suitable choice, who is able to pull it off convincingly. Going in for a deglamourised look in her very first Tamil film warrants guts and Vaishali ought to be commended for it. Another very different kind of role for the other heroine, Swathi, and she does a fairly neat job of it.

Story writer-director Jaishankar has enjoyable surprises for you at many a turn, thus belying the fact that Mannaaru is his maiden venture. But it’s confounding why he had to make Mannaaru grin in such a contrived and frightening fashion ever so often? Acts that put you off completely! Like with most films the group dances are unwarranted and test your patience. And the character of the forever paan-chewing aunt of Mallika is an aberration you can do without. These are areas where Mannaaru irritates.

When Appu Kutty tries to attack his enemy, the stunts are what can be expected of a person who is short and rather corpulent. Action choreography is on natural lines in Mannaaru.

Appu Kutty shows intelligence in his choice of the title role, which has him as the pivot and yet doesn’t portray him as a regular, commercial hero.