In Tamil Nadu, row over actor playing Muttiah Muralitharan in biopic


Written by Arun Janardhanan
| Chennai |

October 16, 2020 1:32:37 am





A poster of the movie 800 was released on Tuesday

The release of the trailer of a new Tamil film portraying the life of Sri Lankan cricketer Muttiah Muralitharan has sparked a controversy in Tamil Nadu, with fans, several political leaders and many prominent film industry personalities in the state protesting Tamil actor Vijay Sethupathi’s decision to play the lead role.

The first poster and the trailer of the biopic, titled ‘800’, released on Tuesday, announcing the project celebrating the life of one of the world’s most successful spin bowlers of all time.

Many in Tamil Nadu are, however, irked over Sethupathi’s decision to enact the life of an Indian-origin Tamil from Sri Lanka’s Kandy who had a questionable political stand during the 26-year civil war involving the LTTE.

Many in Tamil Nadu were opposed to Muralitharan’s political stand during Lanka’s civil war, as he was seen as supporting the government in Colombo — even as a Tamil celebrity who either refused to or never bothered to acknowledge the struggles of Tamils in northern part of Sri Lanka.

With Tamil nationalists pointing out that Muralitharan was close to Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the country’s war-time defence secretary, the cricketer’s support to Gotabaya during the election campaigns have irked many in Tamil Nadu. At one point, Muralitharan was even rumoured to be appointed governor of Northern Province, where a majority population is Tamil.

While the filmmakers on Thursday issued a statement in the face of protests, stating that it is “purely a sports biography film about the legendary cricketer”, Rajya Sabha MP and MDMK general secretary Vaiko alleged that Muralitharan has been “identified as a betrayer of the Tamil race” by Tamils around the world for supporting then Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa during the civil war.

Pattali Makkal Kathi founder-leader S Ramadoss said the news on Sethupathi playing the role was “shocking”. The actor, he stated, should not support a history of “betrayal” out of “ignorance”.

Naam Tamizhar Katchi leader Seeman wondered whether a movie on a “betrayer” and a “stooge” of the Sinhalese could be screened in Tamil Nadu and urged Sethupathi to disassociate himself from the film.

Prominent Tamil Nadu-based director Cheran urged Sethupathi to avoid the project. In a statement, Cheran said it was not worth the effort for Sethupathi to act in a film that is not bigger than his fans or the suffering of Tamil people. He stated that the collective Tamil sentiment is against the movie.

Condemning Sethupathi’s decision, lyricist Thamarai said Muralitharan was being opposed because he had acted as the “loudspeaker” of majority Sinhalese politics and Rajapaksa in Sri Lanka, even as LTTE had never stopped him from playing cricket for his country.

Veteran Tamil filmmaker Bharathirajaa said if Sethupathi avoids the film he would be remembered with gratitude by the Tamil people everywhere. “The Tamil race will never forgive betrayers,” PTI quoted him.

Soon after the project was announced on Tuesday, #ShameonVijaySethupathi started trending on Twitter on Wednesday and Thursday. In their statement on Thursday, the filmmakers said, “It came to our notice that our film 800…is being politicised in many ways…. We, as producers, assure that this film will not showcase any scenes that would belittle the struggles of Eelam Tamils in Sri Lanka or hurt their sentiments in any way…” —WITH PTI INPUTS

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