Tamil actor Vijay Sethupathi’s decision to opt out of 800, a biopic on Sri Lankan cricket player Muthiah Muralitharan, was not surprising, coming as it did in the aftermath of a week-long social media storm kicked up by the film and political fraternity. The actor put out a cryptic tweet on Monday, indicating that he is drawing stumps just when he was getting ready to spin a dream role. It came in response to a request from Muralitharan to step down and end the controversy.
The initial bouncer came from Tamil filmmaker Bharathiraja last week, when he asked the actor to junk the project, saying it was “based on the life of the cricketer who had glorified the Tamil genocide in Sri Lanka in 2009”.
Soon, more voices in the gallery lent support to this cry. Muralitharan, a Tamilian whose ancestors had gone to Sri Lanka as plantation workers during the 19th and early 20th centuries, is seen to be a supporter of Mahinda Rajapaksa, the prime minister of Sri Lanka, and his brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa, its current president. The plantation workers, referred to as “estate Tamils”, live in central Sri Lanka while the Jaffna Tamils or Eelam Tamils consider themselves descendants of the old Jaffna kingdom and mostly live in north and east Sri Lanka.
Though they are both Tamils, their caste dynamics and role in the political landscape are varied. Films as a medium of creative expression have now become frequent targets of crowd censorship. Trolling and hounding in social media has been dictating the narrative of art and the artist’s creative expression, and, unfortunately, been succeeding in its pursuit, the recent pulling down of a jewellery advertisement being a case in point.
The latest pressure on Sethupathi is no different, as it comes from chauvinists who claim to preserve native pride. The point being missed is that the biopic is on the sportsman, tracking his rise in becoming a world-class spinner who bagged a record 800 wickets in Test cricket, a feat that is yet to be matched. His journey involving hard work and determination would have been inspirational to the enthusiastic, cricket-crazy subcontinent. A final word to be noted is that Muralitharan is the mentor of IPL’s Sunrisers Hyderabad team owned by the Sun Network, whose Kalanithi Maran is the grand-nephew of former CM M Karunanidhi.