"It's Over": Actor Vijay Sethupathi Exits Muttiah Muralitharan Biopic

Mr Muralitharan is a Lankan Tamil with roots in India but pro-Tamil groups have branded him a "betrayer of Tamils" and alleged he supported the killing of Tamil civilians

Vijay Sethupathi was to play Sri Lankan cricketer Muttiah Muralitharan in "800"

Chennai:

Tamil actor Vijay Sethupathi has withdrawn from "800", a biopic on Sri Lankan cricketer Muttiah Muralitharan and his record of being the first bowler to take 800 Test wickets, following fierce and widespread criticism from political leaders and others in the southern state over his portraying a man who "played fiddle when Lankan Tamils were dying".

Mr Sethupathi's exit from the film follows an appeal by the cricketer himself; Mr Muralitharan said he did not wish for a top artist to be affected because of him.

"Its over," Mr Sethupathi told reporters on Monday after Mr Muralitharan said: "I don't like (that) a top artist is affected because of me. There should not be any unnecessary obstacles for Vijay Sethupathi in his journey as an artist."

Although Mr Muralitharan is a Lankan Tamil who has roots in India, pro-Tamil groups have branded him a "betrayer of Tamils" and alleged the cricketer supported the killing of Tamil civilians during the armed conflict between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government.

Veteran Tamil director Bharathiraja had said: "Muttiah (Muralitharan) played fiddle when Lankan Tamils were dying. What is the use of achieving as a sportsperson when he laughs as 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."

Apart from Bharathiraja and Dr Ramadoss, at least two Tamil Nadu ministers had also asked Mr Sethupathi to leave the film.

An estimated one lakh Tamil civilians were reportedly killed in bombing raids by Lankan forces during the final phase of the war against the LTTE.

Mr Muralitharan, meanwhile, has denied allegations he supported the killings.

"I had said that in 2009 - to be the happiest day in my life, having in mind the end of the war and loss of lives on both sides. This (his remark) is being twisted as, 'The day Tamils were killed and heaped was the happiest day in my life'," he clarified.

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"I had never supported killing of innocents and I would never do (ever)," he said.

He further explained that he only agreed to the film because it would highlight the role of his parents and others who groomed him for international success.

"I know the pain of war. I grew up in Sri Lanka amid war for over 30 years. My father was hacked when I was seven. Many times we were on the street," he said.

The film's producers, Dar Motion Pictures, also sought to defuse any controversy, saying it was "purely a sports biography".

"This film will not showcase any scenes that will belittle the struggles of Eelam Tamils in Sri Lanka or hurt their sentiments in any way," the producers said.

As the controversy broke and grew (swiftly), Mr Sethupathi initially seemed to stand his ground but no voice from the film fraternity expressed support or raised the issue of freedom of expression and an actor's right to choose his/her films.

In 2017 superstar Rajinikanth had to cancel his Sri Lanka programme - in connection with his film "2.0" - to distribute houses to displaced Tamils. Around four lakh Tamils had been expected.

It later emerged that a few political parties cautioned Rajinikanth that the Lankan government could use his visit to falsely inform the international community that Lankan Tamils had been rehabilitated.