“I can’t go around proving my innocence to everyone” 

Directed by MS Sripathy, the film has Slumdog Millionaire-fame Madhur Mittal stepping into the shoes of the legendary cricketer.
A poster from the movie.
A poster from the movie.

It was Muttiah Muralitharan’s last Test match. India was nine wickets down, and Murali was 1 wicket short of the magical and never-before-surmounted peak of 800 wickets. Pragyan Ojha walks into the ground to face Murali, who was bowling his 38th over. Sixteen overs later, Ojha lunges forward and nicks at a turner that gets safely deposited into the hands of a cautious Mahela Jayawardene in the first slip. After battling a surprisingly resilient Indian tail, Murali reached 800. “I do believe in destiny. I didn’t think I’d be a cricketer. Then, I didn’t think I’d turn professional. I thought Test cricket was everything and then T20s happened. Similarly, I didn’t think 800 wickets was possible when I walked onto the pitch on Day 1. Then, I didn’t think my biopic would happen. How can I not believe in destiny?” asks Muralitharan, whose biopic, fittingly titled 800 is releasing this Friday.

Directed by MS Sripathy, the film has Slumdog Millionaire-fame Madhur Mittal stepping into the shoes of the legendary cricketer. Known for his spin wizardry on the field, and the barrage of controversies off it, Murali’s life is a testament to the age-old adage, ‘Truth is stranger than fiction.’ Interestingly, Murali’s only diktat to the makers of 800 was to not fictionalise the truth of his life. “I gave total freedom to Sripathy. He researched for two years before presenting me with the script.

All I asked him to do was to not fabricate stories, or give the truth a glossy sheen. We can call 800 a biopic only if we show my story as it is,” shares Murali, who is aware of the challenges in condensing a 51-year journey into a film. “Some incidents like the Tsunami and its impact didn’t make it to the final draft. If we had to tell every aspect, then we should have gone the documentary route like the Netflix documentary on Michael Jordan. We wanted the film to reach a wider audience, and there is no better way than making 800 into a feature film.”

Tsunami might have missed making the cut, but there is no doubt that 800 will talk about the stormy times Murali faced during the ‘chucking’ controversy. Reflecting on those turbulent times, Murali says, “I can’t prove my innocence to people who decide to be narrow-minded even when shown overwhelming evidence. Everyone’s life is dictated by technology now, but even then, there are some legendary cricketers who don’t believe the technology that cleared my name. Using this technology to prove myself put me out of action for a year. Still, there are people who aren’t convinced. But then, I can’t go around proving my innocence to every single person.”

If cricket controversies are one part of his career, another facet of his career has been how he was the only Tamil player in the Sri Lankan team during the Civil War in the country. In fact, his comments on the war, and its effects, received a lot of backlash for its alleged insensitivity. However, Murali has always argued that his words were taken out of context. But does he feel the need to clear his name? “What wrong have I done to even clear my name? A lot of these are just fictitious tales. You see, I speak from the heart, and there is a lot of context to what I say.

I can’t be judged based on just one interview or one statement. I am not a leader. I am just a cricketer. Why do you want to give importance to my words?” asks Murali, who puts the blame squarely on social media for twisting his words and blowing them out of context. “There must be decency in criticism. There must be honesty too. Social media doesn’t have all this. Vijay Sethupathi had to leave the project because of social media. What wrong did Vijay Sethupathi do? What wrong did I do?”

The legendary cricketer also reveals that he doesn’t think his words hold the kind of weight people think it does. “I can only be an inspiration by my actions. My words hold value on the cricket field.

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The New Indian Express