Popular Tamil actor Vijay Sethupathi is facing massive backlash from audience in the state and criticism from politicians and film industry veterans for signing up to play the lead role in the Sri Lankan cricketer Muttiah Muralitharan biopic ’800′.
The Rajapaksa government is accused of war crimes and human rights abuse during the 26-year civil war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
There is deep distrust of the Rajapaksa family within the Tamil community in Sri Lanka.
Veteran Tamil filmmaker Bharathirajaa was one of the first to publicly criticise Vijay Sethupathi’s decision to play Muralitharan, saying “The Tamil race will never forgive betrayers”.
“Muttiah Muralitharan was fiddling when Tamil children were dying, and he had fully endorsed the Sinhalese racist attitude. What is the use of achieving much in sports when you had laughed at the plight of your own race? Do you want your face to be associated forever with a man who had backstabbed his own race and be looked at with hatred by people?” he said.
Bharathirajaa also said that if Sethupathi avoided acting in the movie he would be remembered with gratitude by the Tamil people everywhere.
The actor’s announcement of his participation in the project divided Tamil social media with several slamming the actor for reprising the career of the cricketer while others extended supported.
The actor also faced backlash from many in the Tamil film industry.
Director Cheran tweeted, “Tamils from all over the world don’t want you to be a part of 800... This film is not bigger than the people who made you live. Brother ... Leave it. There are many characters out there which can bring out the performer in you.”
Lyricist Thamarai wrote a letter in which he said, “He became the loudspeaker to Rajapakse who was killing Tamils by the dozen. When Tamil blood was being spilled on Mullivaikkal, he rejoiced terming it as a good day. And he described the laments of Tamil mothers who were searching for their lost children as ‘drama’. How could a professional actor like you fail to realise the fact that he was playing a role in the drama staged by the Sri Lankan government to hide its genocide?”
Director Seenu Ramasamy, a close friend of the actor, also tweeted asking the Sethupathi to change his mind.
On Wednesday, Dar Motion Pictures, the producer of the film said ’800′ issued a statement sayingthe film was only a sports biography that intended to capture the journey of a man from the migrant Tamil community going on to become the highest wicket taker of all times.
“The film does not make any political statement favouring any community. This film is intended to be an inspiration for the young generation to achieve their dreams irrespective of the difficulties they come across in their journey.
“We assure that this film will not showcase any scenes that would belittle the struggles of Eelam Tamils in Srilanka or hurt their sentiments in any way,” it said.
Also, the movie house said Tamil film fraternity of Sri Lanka would be engaged to showcase their talents on a global stage.
However, actor Teejay Arunasalam told Times of India that he had refused a part in the film because of its politics.
“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,” Arunasalam said.
The actor said he had been approached to play the younger version of Muralitharan.
His sentiments have been echoed many critics online, who also said Muralitharan’s politics could not be seen as separate from his career.
Many were also offended by the presence of the Sri Lankan flag in the film’s motion poster.
Politicians too urged the actor to distance himself from the film.
MDMK general secretary Vaiko alleged Muralitharan has been “identified as a betrayer of the Tamil race” by Tamils around the world for supporting the then Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa during the 2009 civil war.
“When Tamil mothers in the island nation staged a hunger strike on disappearance of thousands of Tamil men, he offended them by dismissing the protest as drama,” Vaiko, also a Rajya Sabha MP, said.
He asked the actor to avoid the blame of acting in the movie that intended to portray a ‘betrayer’.
Pattali Makkal Kathi founder leader S Ramadoss said the news on Sethupathi playing the role of Muralitharan was ‘shocking’.
The actor should not support a history of ‘betrayal’ out of ‘ignorance’, he said and alleged that the cricketer was a ‘betrayer’ of the Tamils and a loyalist of the Rajapaksa brothers.
Naam Tamizhar Katchi top leader Seeman wondered if a movie on Muralitharan a ‘betrayer’ and a ‘stooge’ of the Sinhalese could be screened in Tamil Nadu.
He urged the actor to disassociate himself from the flick immediately in deference to the sentiments of the Tamil people spread across the globe.