The makers of sports biopic 800 and actor Vijay Sethupathi who is starring as Sri Lankan cricketer Muttiah Muralitharan, have been facing a string of backlash by the film and political fraternity ever since the release of motion poster on October 8.
According to The Times of India report on Friday, Information and Publicity Minister Kadambur C Raju’s reacted to the controversy and said, “I am the minister concerned for the industry, and my opinion can only be that of the government. Vijay Sethupathi should think. He is in a position to consider the overall sentiments.”
The minister said the actor has the freedom to make a decision as an individual. “But I hope he will respect the sentiments. He should understand the sentiments (of people). If he understands, it is good for his future,” he added.
The backlash is a result of the former cricketer’s support to Rajpaksa’s government in Sri Lanka which is criticised for carrying out the mass genocide of Sri Lankan Tamils during the 1956, 1958, and 1977 anti-Tamil pogroms that eventually led to the Sri Lankan Civil War from 1983 to 2009. Muralitharan, a Sri Lankan Tamil himself, had come out in the support of Gotabaya Rajapaksa during the nation’s elections in 2019.
It is also to be noted that the current coach of the Sri Lankan cricket team was said to have been offered the position of the Governor of Tamil-dominated Northern Province. However, he later dismissed the rumours.
As reported by The Times of India, actor Teejay Arunasalam, who debuted with Vetrimaaran’s 2019 film, Asuran, revealed that he was approached by the makers to play the role of young Muralitharan, but rejected the offer as he “did not want to get involved in the politics of the film’s narrative.”
“The war between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamils is depicted in the biopic and it did not sound right to me. My mother is an Eelam Tamil. There was a lot of cruelty involved in the war and I did not want to get involved in the politics of the film’s narrative. So, I eventually told them no,” the actor said.
Soon after the project was announced, #ShameOnVijaySethupathi began trending on social media for participating in a film that the 26-year long civil war and the Lankan Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Several organisations called out on the actor asking him to drop out from the project.
Pattali Makkal Kathi founder-leader S Ramadoss said that the news of Vijay Sethupathi playing the role was “shocking”. The actor, he stated, should not support a history of “betrayal” out of “ignorance”.
Apart from all the flak from social media, the film was also criticised by people from the film industry.
Veteran director Bharathiraja wrote an open letter to the actor “on behalf of Tamil people living across the world,” asking him to avoid the biopic. It read, “Somehow try and avoid being a part of this biopic on the life of a person who hates the Tamil. If you do, you will forever be looked at with gratitude in the hearts of people from Eelam and myself. Do you want your face to be forever associated with a racist person and be looked at with hatred by people?”
Prominent director Cheran and lyricist Thamarai also asked the actor to prioritise his fans and the struggle of the Tamilians. However, the makers appealed on social media and 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,”
Somehow this movie has got politicised: Muttiah Muralitharan
In reply to the ongoing controversy, Muralitharan released a statement on Friday saying that he never supported the genocide and nor will he ever do so.
Claiming that the media had distorted his statements, it said, “Somehow this movie has got politicised and people are against it. The reason for that is because the comments I had made have been distorted. I had told in 2019 that 2009 is my favourite year but it was distorted and told that the time when Tamils were massacred is my favourite time.”
Revealing that he was initially apprehensive of the project when he was approached by the makers, he said, “I allowed the movie as I realised that my achievements were not my own and that several, including, my parents, teachers, coaches, co-players were behind my achievements and I wanted them to be recognised.”