Azhagarsamiyin Kudhirai took him places and Appu Kutty now eagerly awaits the arrival of Mannaaru, whose release is round the corner.

The podgy actor with tousled hair seems more suitable for comedy. But Suseenthiran sensed his talent for serious expressions and gave him a solid role in Azhagarsamiyin Kudhirai. AK catapulted Appu Kutty to the most prestigious podium. He won the National Award for Best Supporting Actor, 2011 for the film. Now, Mannaaru, in which he again plays a pivotal role, is all set for release.

The actor is well aware of his limitations, and his potential. “I knew that AK would fetch me the National Award,” he says. His relentless, 18-year old struggle to gain a foothold in cinema has been answered with recognition, but he sounds cautious about not allowing the achievement go to his head.

When Ilaiyaraja complimented Appu saying that in AK he had lived the part of a man who ekes out a livelihood with the help of his horse, the actor was on cloud nine. “I can’t thank Suseenthiran enough for the role. But I know I can’t rest on the laurels that have come my way. Continuing to prove my mettle is vital,” says Appu. But is he confident of getting more such prominent roles? Azhagarsamiyin Kudhirai seems more an exception. “Wanting to play the lead role is the dream of every actor,” Appu begins after a pause, “but realising the dream is in his hands. Self-confidence has brought me this far. I couldn’t believe my ears when Suseenthiran said I would be the hero of AK, but it happened. And after AK, I did get several offers for main roles, but I chose only Mannaaru.”

Yet is he doing everything that heroes ought to do to keep fit? Diet, workouts? “I understand your question,” he laughs. “I do try dieting. The sad truth is I eat less for 10 days and only end up feeling weak and tired. I don’t lose weight. And when in a near famished state I see a mouth-watering spread, I go on a binge.”

Surprises in store

But he can’t be serious about singing duets and performing stunts. “Of course, I am,” he asserts. “In Mannaaru (directed by Jaishankar, an erstwhile assistant of Thambi Ramaiah and Selvaraghavan), we have several surprises lined up,” Appu’s voice brims with enthusiasm. “I have a duet that will be shown as montages, and not one but two heroines — Vaishali and Swathi. Mannaaru will be an enjoyable film.” How does he manage dance and action without training? “I request the choreographers to be considerate and make things manageable for me,” he laughs.

From two-scene appearances in several films, including Ghilli, Azhagiya Tamizh Magan and Solla Marandha Kadhai, Appu Kutty graduated to a reasonably noticeable role in Vennila Kabaddi Kuzhu, again thanks to Suseenthiran. “I would carry my photographs and go around visiting production offices and directors on my bicycle,” he observes.

It was while working in a restaurant that he first got an offer to play a small part in a film. And once he faced the arc lights, he couldn’t give it up. So has he decided to play only central characters, post AK? “I keep my feet on the ground. I know that such stipulations will take me nowhere,” he says. After Mannaaru, Appu Kutty will be seen in character roles in Sasikumar’s Sundarapandian, Dhanush’s Mariyaan, and Moondru Paer Moondru Kaadhal, directed by Vasanth. He’s also working in a Malayalam film.

An actor with great aspirations calling himself ‘Appu Kutty’ is rather strange. “My name’s Sivabalan. The character I played in Vennila Kabaddi Kuzhu was known as Appu Kutty and Suseenthiran decided to re-christen me so,” he smiles.