Bowing down is no answer

As politics-sports-moviemaking entanglement forces Vijay Sethupathi to exit 800, a biopic on Sri Lankan cricketer Muttiah Muralitharan, celebs criticise the hypocrisy of those who oppose the film

Bowing down is no answer

Alexx O’Nell and Guru Bhullar.

Gurnaaz Kaur and Sheetal

Around two weeks back, with much pride, Vijay Sethupathi announced signing 800, a biopic on Muttiah Muralitharan. He wrote, “Honoured to be a part of this landmark project. Update soon. #MuthiahMuralitharan @MovieTrainMP #MuralitharanBiopic #MSSripathy #Vivekrangachari @proyuvraaj.”

As on Monday, he has bowed out of the project. Reason? He had been under pressure by his fans down South to drop the role in 800. People in Tamil Nadu consider that Muralitharan is a traitor since he did not support the Tamils in Sri Lanka.

Predicting the gravity of the situation is Muralitharan’s letter he tweeted that advised Vijay to not get into any ‘trouble’. He wrote, “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. There should be no obstacles for Sethupathi in the future because of this movie.” In return, Sethupathi, alongside the image of the letter, wrote, “Thank you and goodbye.” Thus, confirming the withdrawal.

This has been a hot a topic of debate. While some political parties and Tamil nationalists claim the movie is an attempt to whitewash a problematic figure, the film industry has strongly criticised those who asked Sethupathi to drop the project. But politics and nationalist groups playing censor or dictating terms, is that the way for the craft?

Noted trade analyst and critic Komal Nahta, says, “Vijay has bowed down to pressure because down South, audience and fans are very powerful and politically aware. There’s no right or wrong way when emotions of fans come into play. Since fans are powerful, an actor has to bow down to their wishes.”

Having acted in movies such as Cheeni Kum, Madrasapattinam, Joker, Urumi apart from his digital successes, 21 Sarfarosh, Bose, Inside Edge and now Aarya, actor and singer Alexx O’Nell believes censorship is rarely the answer. “Indeed, if it wasn’t for the announcement of this film, there wouldn’t be nearly as much reflection on Muralitharan’s legacy as a sportsman or a public figure. I see no reason why Sethupathi should succumb to the pressure to leave a project that’s an opportunity of a lifetime and could form the centrepiece of important conversations; interactions that may even serve to heal long-standing communal rifts.” he says.

Having worked with some of the best actors, directors and technicians in the Tamil industry, Alexx has absolutely no doubt that stories like this can be executed in a careful and balanced way.

He adds, “Director A L Vijay is currently shooting a biopic of the no-less-controversial J. Jayalalithaa (and starring the always-controversial Kangana Ranaut), and I believe he is doing just that; i.e. approaching the work responsibly, carefully recognising the opposing views on her legacy. From what I know of Muthaiya Muralitharan’s life, this seems a like a story that should be told. In fact, more than Muralitharan’s fans, those who disagree with his life-choices should welcome this film as an opportunity to engage in a dialogue about why they feel the way they do.”

Director of a National award-winning biopic Harjeeta, which, too, is on a sportsperson, Vijay Kumar Arora is of the opinion that politics and art shouldn’t be mixed. “It is not fair. Biopic is made on legends; someone who has something beyond the normal. It conveys a story to remember forever. Politics has its own place, sports its own and so does moviemaking…why the entanglement? Think of this- If even one person or 10 persons gain from the movie, imagine the difference it would make. There is much to gain by making such films than to impede the process.”

The Uri actor, Guru Bhullar, who was last seen in Darbar starring Rajinikanth, sympathises with Sethupathi. He says, “The person who has done his homework, given time to prepare for the role, to see that all go in vain must be heartbreaking. We all know how much energy, time and dedication a biopic demands and going by the first look of 800, one can seen the stark resemblance of Sethupathi and Murali. There will always be certain people in the society who pull you down, filmmakers or those who have put money on the project should fight back with conviction.”

Among the supporters of the movie is also a popular actress, entrepreneur and producer, Radikaa Sarathkumar. She shared a series of post on double standards of people. She even questioned why Sunrisers Hyderabad hired Muralitharan as head coach if they had problem with the Sri Lankan Tamilian in the first place. She tweeted: “#muthaiyamuralitharan biopic & asking @VijaySethuOffl not to act do these people have no work??why not ask @SunRisers why he is the head coach, team belongs to a Tamilian with political affiliations? VSP is an actor, and do not curb an actor. VSP & cricket both don’t warrant nonsense.”

Project should fight back with conviction”

Among the supporters of the movie is also a popular actress, entrepreneur and producer, Radikaa Sarathkumar. She shared a series of post on double standards of people. She even questioned why Sunrisers Hyderabad hired Murali as head coach if they had problem with the Sri Lankan Tamilian in the first place. She tweeted, “#muthaiyamuralitharan biopic & asking @VijaySethuOffl not to act do these people have no work??why not ask @SunRisers why he is the head coach, team belongs to a Tamilian with political affiliations? VSP is an actor, and do not curb an actor. VSP & cricket both don’t warrant nonsense.” Muralitharan is currently serving as the bowling coach of Sunrisers Hyderabad and was in Dubai with his team when he issued the statement of clarification.

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