Time plays an important role in crime thrillers. The sequence right before the intermission in Mouna Guru is an example — the protagonist Karunakaran (Arulnidhi) is one of three youngsters lined up by a group of corrupt policemen to be killed in a fake encounter in the reserve forests on the Andhra Pradesh-Tamil Nadu border. What goes wrong over the next few minutes is shown in excruciating detail. No jump cuts. No fast editing. Time stays true to character.

The long-drawn sequence is one of the many small victories the movie scores in retaining audience interest even while keeping away from ‘formula' — there are not many unwarranted songs or unconnected comic sequences.

Mouna Guru, produced by Mohana Arts and featuring young actor Arulnidhi, is a crime thriller backed by superb performances from all the lead actors. First-time director Shantakumar surprises the audience with twists and turns in a story and screenplay that appear realistic for the most part. The climax is truly a surprise. The intensity is maintained — even the faults can be overlooked for the entirety of the experience the film provides.

The technicians — be it cinematographer Mahesh Muthuswami, editor Raja Muhammed, art director A. A. Devaraj and music director S. Thaman — have all worked as per the dictates of the genre.

Karunakaran is a forthright college-going youth in Madurai, who is unable to control his anger as is required by the society he lives in. A misfit in his surroundings, he is often misunderstood by all. Unable to come to terms with the grey areas of the world, he constantly finds himself struggling between right and wrong. His mother is constantly worried and his brother is protective yet does not understand fully his behaviour.

The story moves from Madurai to Chennai, after Karunakaran is forced to leave college. Thrust into a vitiated environment in a city college, where egos and politics rule, Karunakaran is unwittingly drawn into a crime plot involving four policemen — Assistant Commissioner Marimuthu (John Vijay), Inspector Rajendran (Madhu), Sub-Inspector Selvam (Balakrishnan) and cop Perumalsamy (Krishnamurthy). The four try to appropriate a huge stash of cash from a road accident.

But one lie leads to another, and as the body counts mount, Karunakaran is drawn right into the epicentre of a crime plot gone awry. Even as the four policemen scheme and cover their tracks, a sincere police officer Palaniammal (Uma Riaz Khan) unravels the plot and becomes the only person who is aware of Karunakaran's innocence.

The story and screenplay are taut, the dialogues well-written, particularly Karunakaran's outburst after being labelled mentally unstable and sent to the government hospital by the policemen.

Arulnidhi plays with aplomb the role of the angry young man pushed to a corner by circumstances. John Vijay, Madhu, Balakrishnan and Krishnamurthy are outstanding as the corrupt policemen who set into motion a series of events they themselves are unable to control. The credit should go to Shantakumar for etching their characters beautifully, without reducing them to caricatures. The vulnerabilities of the characters come to the fore when they realise their game is up and everyone from the Police Commissioner gets to know of their schemes following Palaniammal's investigation. Uma Riaz Khan impresses — one can't help wonder why the actor does not feature more regularly in Tamil cinema. Iniya plays Karunakaran's love interest as the sister of his elder brother's wife. But the romance is lost in a script that focusses on crime. Murugadoss (who was seen in Aadukalam as Dhanush's friend) does a wonderful cameo as a mentally-challenged person aiding Karunakaran in his retribution.

Mouna Guru is one of the small gems of Tamil cinema this year. It marks a promising debut for Shantakumar and advances Arulnidhi's career. Worth checking out if you like crime thrillers. A word of warning though. Some sequences may be inappropriate for children.

Mouna Guru

Genre: Crime Thriller

Cast: Arulnidhi, John Vijay, Uma Riaz Khan, Iniya

Storyline: A misunderstood college youth becomes unwittingly involved in a crime plot that spirals his life out of order.

Bottomline: Worth watching