Row Over ‘800’: Why is TN Fuming Over Muttiah Muralitharan Biopic?

We explain why the Sri Lankan cricketer is a controversial figure in Tamil Nadu and what led to the uproar.

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‘Thank you and goodbye!’

That's what actor Vijay Sethupathi said, as he pulled out of the biopic titled '800', based on the life of Sri Lankan cricketer Muttiah Muralitharan.

Ever since the actor took to Twitter to announce the launch of the biopic on 8 October, the internet went into a frenzy and #ShameonVijaySethupathi started trending as the Tamil community raised several objections to the film.


What Is the Controversy All About?

Several pro-Tamil groups and celebrities from the Tamil film industry expressed strong opposition that the actor cannot glorify a person who had campaigned in favour of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who was the then Defence Secretary of the Sri Lankan government that was allegedly responsible for killing thousands of Tamils
during the final phase of the war against the LTTE, treating them as minorities in the country.


What Is Muralitharan's Role in a Tamil Conflict?

Muralitharan, who is a Sri Lankan Tamil of Indian origin, rose to fame as one of the few greats in Sri Lankan cricket in the 1990s – and was celebrated by all communities. But Muralitharan was also often accused of not standing up firmly for the Tamil cause in Sri Lanka, during the civil war and in its aftermath.

This is the reason why Tamil nationalists in Tamil Nadu are up in arms against him, condemning his silence on the civil war and his subsequent support to Rajapaksa.


What Does Muralitharan have to Say?

"I had said that in 2009, (deeming it) the happiest day in my life, bearing in mind the end of the war and loss of lives on both sides. This is being twisted as, 'The day Tamils were killed and heaped was the happiest day in my life,'" he clarified, in a strongly worded letter requesting Vijay Sethupathi to step down from the project.

Talking about Sethupathi, he said, “I don’t want one of the finest actors in Tamil Nadu to face any kind of trouble...”


How Has Vijay Sethupathi Reacted?

Meanwhile, on 19 October, in an interaction with media persons Vijay said, "It's over. That's all and there's nothing more to it."

Earlier Vijay Sethupathi had said in an interview that he was happy to be associated with ‘an iconic sportsman of Tamil origin and someone who has made his mark across the world.’

The production house, Dar Motion Pictures, had clarified that the film was purely a sports biography and that the issue is being politicised. Through a statement, they assured people that the film 'will not showcase any scenes that would belittle the struggles of Eelam Tamils in Sri Lanka or hurt their sentiments in any way'.


How Has Kollywood Reacted?

In an open letter addressed to Vijay Sethupathi, director Bharathiraja appealed,
“Muttiah (Muralitharan) played fiddle when Lankan Tamils were dying. What is the use of achieving as a sportsperson when he laughs at his own people die?
As far as we are concerned Muttiah has betrayed (our) trust.”

PMK chief Dr P Ramadoss said, “If Vijay Sethupathi turns down the film, he will find a place in Tamil history. If he does it defying the opposition, he will find a place in the history of betrayers.”

Director and actor Cheran, Director Seenu Ramasamy, lyricist Thamarai, actor Vivek too told the actor, “This film is not bigger than the people who made you live.”

Meanwhile, actor Radhikaa Sarathkumar, tweeted in support that an actor shouldn't be stopped from taking on projects.

The Publicity and Information Minister Kadambur C Raju too, said the actor “should respect the sentiments of Tamils all over the world and rethink his decision.”

Many Sethupathi fans also took to Twitter to ask, “If the West can make a film about Mahatma Gandhi, why can’t Tamil Nadu?”

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