The film to be made on the life of former Sri Lankan cricketer Muttiah Muralitharan
has thrown up a storm. The cricketer is accused of playing for a national
team that comprised both Tamils and the Sinhalese.
Celebrities who are outspoken about their political beliefs often stand the danger of alienating the public. The cult of fame enjoyed by those who are affiliated with the glamour business is aligned closely with a favourable public image. Those who struggle to maintain their public persona are written off for espousing controversial opinions. With the emergence of the ‘cancel culture’ on social media, the long shadow of criticism over statements made by celebrities has intensified.
The bitter burdens associated with this trend were witnessed when a forthcoming biographical film on former Sri Lankan cricketer Muttiah Muralitharan stirred a controversy. The film documents the milestones of Muralitharan’s career and has been aptly titled ‘800’ as a reference to the number of Test wickets he took in his career as a professional cricketer. On October 8, Tamil actor Vijay Sethupathi announced on Twitter that he will be playing the lead role in the film. Sympathizers of Tamil nationalists and various political parties were livid over the development. Many of them viewed the film as an attempt to glorify a public figure whose problematic political leanings have undermined the cause of the Sri Lankan Tamils.
Sethupathi, who has gathered critical attention for his contributions to Tamil cinema, was flooded with a chorus of appeals on social media from fans and well-wishers who advised him against taking up the project. In an open letter to Sethupathi, Tamil film director Bharathiraja declared that Muralitharan had betrayed “the Tamil race” by showing support for a Sri Lankan government that had conducted genocide against the Tamil population.
Echoing Bharathiraja’s sentiments, Tamil poet and lyricist Thamarai urged Sethupathi to play the character of a chief of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) instead of Muralitharan.
Despite the chorus of criticism, some members of the film fraternity defended Sethupathi’s right to pursue the project. Veteran Tamil actor Radikaa Sarath Kumar asserted that policing Sethupathi’s professional conduct was unfair and hypocritical. According to Kumar, Tamil nationalist sympathizers had remained silent over Sun Network owner Kalanithi Maran’s decision to appoint Muralitharan as a mentor of his IPL team, Sunrisers Hyderabad. This shows that Sethupathi was unduly criticized because he may be a soft target.