Last week, when DAR movies went public with their plans to make a biopic about one of the world’s most successful cricket bowlers, Muttiah Muralitharan, there was little evidence that this would spark controversy.
Titled 800, the number of wickets that the Sri Lankan off-spinner took in Test cricket, the film will star Tamil film actor Vijay Sethupathi.
DAR movies said it had plans to dub the movie in other languages as well, most notably Hindi, Kannada, Bengali, Sinhala and Telugu.
DAR movies said the movie would be purely a sports biographical film and shooting will begin next year.
However, the film came under fire this week with trending #shameonvijaysethupathi on social media after the actor was signed to the film.
If DAR movies had expected the making of the Muralitharans biopic to go smoothly, it was probably a mistake given the cricketers’ past.
With regard to Sethupathi, the story has taken two curious turns: who is against him and who supports him.
Until now, Vijay Sethupathi could be seen as someone who opposed the Union government, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Elements opposed to Hindutva, BJP and Modi have always regarded him as someone they can rely on to embarrass the Center on issues including the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019.
But where Vijay Sethupathi has been misled is that he has committed an offense against those who support the cause of a separate Tamil Eelam state in Sri Lanka. These elements are in both Sri Lanka and India.
Among those who have acted against Vijay Sethupathi in the role of Muralitharans are people from the Tamil film world themselves, led by veteran director Bharathi Raja. Others, such as Naam Tamilaar Katchi leader Seeman, are also against this.
However, Vijay Sethupathi is now getting support from unexpected quarters. The BJP and its leaders such as Subramanian Swamy and former Karnataka IPS official K Annamalai.
Both support the film with in particular Swamy, that Muralitharan is the most brilliant spin bowler to date in cricket history and that the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam (LTTE) who fought for a separate Eelam have died out.
What compels those in favor of a separate Eelam to oppose Muralitharan or a biopic about him? There are two reasons for this.
First, the off-spinner backed last year’s election of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksas. He even got a tip to become governor of the Tamil-dominant northern province, but it hasn’t happened yet.
Rajapaksa is held responsible for the wiping out of the LTTE by the Sri Lankan military in 2009 and allegations of genocide have been made against him and the military.
While supporting Rajapaksa, Muralitharan denied that genocide had taken place in Sri Lanka, which angered Eelam’s supporters.
The wiping out of the LTTE included the murder of his supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran by the Sri Lankan army along with his family, especially his 12-year-old youngest son, Balachandran.
Although LTTE has died out, those who have supported the cause of a separate Eelam continue to hold such hopes, especially in Europe, Australia and Canada.
The other problem the Eelam supporters have with the Sri Lankan off-spinner, who single-handedly won many test matches for his team, is that he has never supported the cause of the LTTE or any separate Eelam.
This is because people are unaware of the exact reasons behind Muralitharan’s refusal to take up the political cause.
Muralitharan, born in Kandy, Sri Lanka in April 1972, was the eldest son of Sinnasamy Muttiah, who was successful as a biscuit manufacturer.
The off-spinners’ grandfather, Periyasamy Sinasamy, moved from South India to plantations in Sri Lanka in the 1920s, when the British ruled both nations.
Although Sinasamy returned to India and settled in Trichy with his daughters, Muralitharans’ father chose to stay in Sri Lanka.
The off spinner went to one of the schools that produced popular cricketers for the island nations, St Anthonys College.
An event that took place in 1977 had a major impact on Muralitharan. His family then faced an attack by an enraged Sinhalese gang during the pogrom that took place between July and August of that year.
In Kandy, Tamils living in Sinhalese-majority areas were attacked. The house and factory of the off-spinner families were burned. But it was the Sinhalese who saved them from the angry mob.
They (helpful Sinhalese) came and stopped the mad people (angry mob) before killing us. We have never forgotten that. We rebuilt them (house and factory) and moved on. That was our family way. We are business people, not politicians, the off-spinner told popular cricket writer Peter Roebuck in an interview.
Muralitharan told Roebuck that the situation became normal for him after 1983, especially after moving to a hostel for study. In the hostel he lived with students from both communities – Tamil and Sinhala.
This probably explains why Muralitharan has kept aloof from politics and focused only on his career.
The sudden outburst against the Lankan off-spinner is surprising given that he was considered Chennai’s own son-in-law.
Muralitharan is married to Madhimalar, whose family ran the Malar Hospitals in the upscale Adayar district before the Fortis Group took over. The off-spinner had also proudly represented Chennai’s CSK in Indian Premier League cricket.
He has also been involved in the Tamil Nadu Premier League as a mentor to Thiruvallur Veerans.
So the whole controversy over his biopic begs a question: are these protests over Muralitharans’ actual background or are pro-Tamil elements angry with Vijay Sethupathi signing up for the project?
Pro-Tamil elements are likely to see an opportunity to push through with elections to the Tamil Nadu Assembly just around the corner.
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