He has directed some classy, sensitively crafted films (Partihban kanavu, Pirivom Sandhippom), where the protagonists are simple men with aspirations of any common man. But when Karu Palaniappan steps into his first outing as a hero in Manthira Punnagai, apart from scripting and directing it, he ventures into a totally different genre. The protagonist he chooses to essay, is a man far removed ‘from the maddening crowd’. It’s a role suitable for him, and he plays the psychologically disturbed Kathir with subdued natural flair, never overdoing it. Kathir is an intriguing character, Palaniappan etching it on a definite graph. A brilliant architect, Kathir’s wry humour, cynical attitude towards life, and outspokenness, distance him from his colleagues and neighbours. A loner and not apologetic about his lifestyle, he is a chain smoker, a hard drinker and has call girls dropping into his flat. Nandini, a sales executive at a car showroom is attracted to him, and he brings out her caring, warm nature. But when his father on one of his occasional visits from the village, warns Kathir against blindly trusting her, his words disturb him. For, he has had a traumatic childhood, and has always been distrustful of women. And when Kathir catches Nandini in close physical intimacy with a stranger, his rage crosses all bounds. The story takes a surprise turn from here. Meenakshi, largely neglected by filmmakers despite a splendid debut in Karuppusamy…..., gets a substantial role here. The actress, endowed with both looks and talent, brings both into play here as Nandini, patient and understanding of Kathir’s fears. The screenplay has a smooth flow in the earlier part, Palaniappan is confident both as an actor and as a director. Distracting are some of the comic intrusions, and the songs which are forced into the narrative. An element of suspense and thrill builds up towards the latter part. The twist in the plot lends a new perspective to the happenings, the narration gripping and engaging here. But the climax is too simplistic and ends on a dull note. Palaniappan’s dialogues, intelligent and sparkling, are a key strength to the narration throughout. Themes centered around schizophrenia are a rarity in Tamil cinema. Parthepan had done it in Kudaikul Mazhai. It’s commendable that Palaniappan had taken on a challenging and an unusual theme in his first film as an actor. Manthira Punnagai comes across as promising to a film buff who’s always looking for change from the usual formula flicks.