A popular actor who was set to star as Sri Lanka’s legendary spinner Muttiah Muralitharan in a biopic withdrew from the project on Monday after the cricketer warned he could face a backlash from India’s Tamil minority.
Tamil politicians in India accuse Muralitharan, who retired from Test cricket in 2010, of betraying fellow Tamils in his country during a civil war that ended in 2009.
Vijay Sethupathi, 42, had been under pressure in his southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu to drop the role in “800” — named after the world record number of Test wickets Muralitharan took in his celebrated career.
“I don’t want one of the finest actors in Tamil Nadu to face any kind of trouble, hence I request him to drop out of the project,” Muralitharan, 48, wrote in a letter tweeted by the actor.
“There should be no obstacles for Sethupathi in the future because of this movie.” Sethupathi wrote alongside the image of the letter: “Thank you and goodbye.”
India’s small MDMK party, which opposes the Sinhalese-led government in Sri Lanka, demanded Sethupathi reject the role, saying Muralitharan sided with Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who as president defeated the separatist Tamil Tiger insurgency.
Indian star Vijay Sethupathi pulls out of Sri Lanka cricket legend biopic after widespread political outcry. He was to star as Sri Lanka's legendary spinner Muttiah Muralitharan in the movie #India #SriLanka #TamilNadu https://t.co/dSM788tSwo pic.twitter.com/Irwz2ggdm8
— Sri Lanka Global (@srilankaglobal) October 20, 2020
The enmity dates back to 2013, when Muralitharan told then British prime minister David Cameron that he may have been “misled” by Tamil women who complained to him about disappearances during the war.
Muralitharan, who is currently working as a bowling coach with Indian Premier League side Sunrisers Hyderabad for the ongoing tournament in the United Arab Emirates, had said that his remarks about Sri Lanka’s ethnic war were “misunderstood”.
Fans had slammed the actor on social media, using the hashtag #shameonVijaySethupathi. Muralitharan added in the letter that he hoped a new lead would be announced soon.
“I accepted this biopic because I thought the movie will inspire and provide confidence to aspiring young cricketers,” he wrote. A source close to Muralitharan said in Colombo: “The movie project will go on without Vijay. Producers are already discussing ways to proceed.”
The United Nations and international rights groups have accused Sri Lankan forces of killing at least 40,000 minority Tamils in the final campaign against the Tigers. The government has denied that it killed civilians.