The plot opens with Sethu (Kamal Haasan) and Ranjani (Rekha) arriving at a cliff where they plan to commit suicide due to the pressure put up by Ranjani's parents against their marriage. Sethu who is the son of an ordinary drunkard cook (Delhi Ganesh) and is also a dancer is not accepted as groom for Ranjani by her parents. The parents threaten Ranjani that either they would kill Sethu or commit suicide. While jumping from the cliff Sethu accidentally gets trapped in a tree and escapes but Ranjani dies. Despite the attempts made by Ranjani's father to jail Sethu by framing a fault case that Sethu killed Ranjani, no strong evidence was there to prove it. He is jailed for the offence of attempted suicide for one year.
After a year, he is released from jail. Padmini (Srividya) who owns a dance school provides him a job of dance master as he is the former student. Sethu visits regularly the cliff as a remembrance of his love. On his way he sees a girl (Revathi) who attempts suicide for silly reason of failure in examination and he stops her from it. He again meets the girl in a gallery. The girl introduces herself to him as Malini but he ignores her. Malini again meets Sethu at a tourist spot where she clicks photos without his knowledge, but Sethu finds out and damages her camera. Malini chases him to his dance school as his student. Sethu repeatedly insults her but Malini develops a love for Sethu.
Malini coincidentally meets Chaplin Chellapa (also Kamal Hasan), uncle of Sethu who dressed himself like Charlie Chaplin and makes people laugh. She comes to know about Sethu's failed love from him, which increases her affection towards Sethu. Chaplin Chellapa helps her to win Sethu's heart. Malini is actually a Sinhalese girl because of which she faces trouble from her class mate many times and every time rescued by Sethu. Sethu though humiliates her all the time develops a soft corner in his mind. Sethu could realise that he had started to love her but gets confused what to do as he is a failed one. Sethu's repeated attempts to prevent himself loving Malini fails and he takes a sign of blessing for his new love from Ranjani at the cliff side. He finally confesses his love for her and proposes to her.
Malini continues to spend time with Chaplin Chellapa as she enjoys his sense of humour. This makes Sethu jealous, so he attempts to mimic Chaplin Chellapa's mannerisms - but ends up having an accident. Sethu finds that Chaplin Chellapa is a failed lover, who to forget his past has worn a mask of Charlie Chaplin. Sethu and Malini unite Chelapa and Padmini who is a spinster. Sethu again faces pressure from Malini's father as Malini is of Sinhalese origin and Sethu is a Tamilian. Both of them struggle hard to win in their love. Malini goes to the extent of escaping from Sri Lanka to Tamil Nadu to join with Sethu. After understanding the tight bond of Malini with Sethu, Malini's father approves their marriage.
Ranjani's father who hears about Sethu's marriage wants to take "revenge" for his daughter's death. On the day of Sethu's engagement, he gives a basket full of apples which has a time bomb in it to Sethu's father pretending to be his gift for his son. Sethu's father who does not know about the bomb keeps the basket in Chaplin Chellapa's car. Sethu and Malini starts to visit Sethu's love cliff in Chellapa's car which has the bomb. Sethu's father and Chellapa who come to know about this, start chasing them to stop but in vain. Tha bomb explodes at the same place where Sethu-Ranjani attempted suicide and Sethu-Malini die in the explosion, leaving Chellapa and Sethu's father heartbroken. The film ends with Chellapa showering flowers in the place where the three of them died.