The Muralidaran biopic – latest trigger in the Diaspora-Sri Lanka showdown


Muralithran is the first Sri Lankan sportsman to be immortalised in South India’s Tamil celluloid. The Tamil Diaspora is in no mood to celebrate, citing his invalidation of their cause.

South Indian star Vijay Sethupathi is all set to star in Sri Lankan cricketing legend Muttiah Muralitharan’s biopic. Cricket fans are ecstatic that Muralitharan’s legacy as one of the best spinners to walk the planet will be rolled out on celluloid titled ‘800’. Not everyone is happy on hearing of the biopic though. Sections of Sri Lanka’s Tamil Diaspora have mounted an offensive against the movie already accusing the cricketer of failing to speak up for them.

The makers are serious about immortalising Muralitharan right. For starters, the movie’s poster spells the cricketing legends name in Tamil phonetics as Muthiah Muralidaran. The response to the movie’s announcement however has been worrying. When Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa in a tweet endorsed Sethupathi as the apt choice to bring Muralidaran to life on the silver screen, UK based Dr Thusiyan Nandakumar tagged Sethupathi and questioned if Rajapaksas are the fans he would like to attract.

Trending under #Muralidaranbiopic, Sethupathi’s tweet on 8 October that ‘’he was honoured to be part of the landmark project’’ has been dominated by criticism as well. A majority of the 316 replies (at the time of publication) highlighted how Muralidaran failed to shed light on the struggle of Sri Lanka’s Tamils despite the persecution. Some accused him of soft pedaling on sensitive Tamil issues to appease the majority Sinhala community. The dissent was precise and appeared well coordinated.  Sethupathi who is known for his professionalism will perhaps reiterate his ability to distance politics from his craft. This may be an uphill task given how political a figure Muralidaran is.

This is not the first time the Tamil groups  are taking on a movie or those who star in it. 

In 2017, one of India’s if not the world’s biggest movie stars, Rajnikanth was forced to cancel a visit to Sri Lanka by a Tamil lobby. The actor was to hand over homes built by the Gnanam Foundation which belongs to the Lyca Group – a powerful company owned by a member of the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora. Lyca Productions has created multiple Tamil blockbusters too. None of that mattered, when the Tamil lobby said no, even Rajnikanth had to fall in line.

In 2010 when Kerala born Tamil movie actress Asin Thottumkal jetted to Sri Lanka for the shoot of Hindi movie Ready alongside Bollywood biggie Salman Khan, she was not spared either. Photos of Asin’s visit to Jaffna and Vavuniya with the then first lady Shiranthi Rajapaksa irked some lobby groups in Chennai which demanded an explanation from Asin who tried to demarcate between her career and politics to no avail. She was removed from Director Shankar’s Tamil magnum opus ‘I’ amid threats to boycott any Tamil movie which featured her. Not all criticisms of the star were justified. In fact the people in the eye clinic camps she visited in the Northern Province looked gleeful to catch a glimpse of the actress, but lobby groups rewrote her fate upon her return to India and damaged her career beyond repair.

Muralidaran’s biopic may prove to be the exemption. Produced by Mumbai based Dar Motion Pictures in Collaboration with 9 month old Motion Train Pictures, the movie has been in the works for close to a year, but so has the Diaspora-led opposition.

Cricket has been a uniting factor, at least socially for Indians, folk in Chennai and Sri Lanka who love their cricket and idolise their cricketers. Muralidaran’s biopic has a lot to circumvent given the impending opposition to any new announcement regarding the movie. If the movie weathers that storm, hits the cinemas, and becomes a hit, it could be a testament to the power of sports in building bridges among communities. Yes, it sounds a utopian ideal but that the biopic has two Tamil men who enjoy mammoth following among the Tamil communities across the world in its kitty, is a big deal. But, will that impact at least parts of Tamil political discourse? Only time will tell. 

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