Tamil actor Vijay Sethupathi has decided not to portray Muthiah Muralitharan in 800, a biopic on the former Sri Lankan cricketer. Mr. Sethupathi, one of the top performers in Tamil cinema now, took the decision on Mr. Muralitharan’s request. The former Sri Lankan national team bowler and current bowling coach for the Sunrisers Hyderabad IPL team stated that he didn’t want Mr. Sethupathi’s career to be affected due to this role.
Mr. Muralitharan, who holds the record for the most Test cricket wickets taken by any cricketer — the 800 in the film title — is a Sri Lankan of Tamil origin. Some in Sri Lanka and India see him as being supportive of the Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who led the intense war with Tamil nationalist group LTTE in the country’s north and east. The war brought a bloody end to the decades-long civil war in the country in 2009, but many issues remain in the ethnic strife between Sri Lank’s minority Tamils and majority Sinhalese. An earlier comment by Mr. Muralitharan that 2009 was the “happiest year” for him is now being used to criticise Mr. Sethupathi for accepting the role. Mr. Muralitharan has tried to clarify that his comments were taken out of context and that he did not support the killing of thousands of innocent civilians in the last phase of the war in 2009. However, that has not placated the political parties and members of the Tamil film industry who had been putting pressure on Mr. Sethupathi after the first poster of the film showing him in the role came out a few days ago.
This story is important because it shows that the Sri Lankan Tamil issue remains a highly sensitive topic in Tamil Nadu and retains a political edge even 10 years after the civil war ended.