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'Sacrifices have to be made' - Tamil actor Teejay on turning down role of young Murali

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Photo: Scene from Asuran (2019).

Amidst the uproar over Kollywood star Vijay Sethupathi’s impending appearance as Sri Lankan cricketer Muttiah Muralitharan, came the news that Eelam Tamil singer and actor Teejay Arunasalam had already declined a major role in the film.

The London-based artist who made his Kollywood debut last year, starring in Asuran alongside Dhanush, revealed earlier this week that he had been approached by the makers of the controversial ‘800’ biopic to play the young version of Muralitharan.

Though Muralitharan is an ethnic Tamil, he has been a long-standing supporter of Sinhala extremists, including backing Gotabaya Rajapaksa for presidency last year. Previously Murali stated he “did not have any problems as a Tamil”, and even claimed that former British prime minister David Cameron had been “misled” over reports of abuses faced by Tamils. He has also compared Mahinda Rajapaksa, Gotabaya's older brother and former president who also stand accused of war crimes, to Nelson Mandela.

Director Vetrimaaran, actor Dhanush and Teejay celebrating 100 days of Asuran

Speaking to Tamil Guardian, Teejay who is locked in to work on a Gautham Menon project next year, says he made the decision to turn down the role after mulling on the script.

“I had a conversation with the director and asked if there would be anything political,” Teejay said. “He said no, but when I went through the script I picked up on some things myself.”

“There was one particularly scene involving a bomb blast. In fact, I would have had to act out most of the sensitive scenes which took place on the island, whereas the older Muralitharan’s scenes are mostly set abroad.”

Explaining his decision to decline the role, Teejay says actors should be responsible for vetting the projects they got involved with. “If we’re careless and don’t read the script, we can land in hot water,” he said.

“Sacrifices have to be made sometimes,” Teejay said, recounting his decision to also turn down a project with a prominent Tamil film director because of scenes depicting the Sri Lankan Army.

Referencing statements made by other Kollywood stars urging Vijay Sethupathi to reconsider his involvement in the Muralitharan biopic, Teejay said “I am sure Vijay Sethupathi [anna] will reflect on this.”

Mentioning that filming had not begun on ‘800’, he said “He has a lot of time to think and I think he will make a good decision.”

“I have seen so much positive energy towards Tamil Eelam in Kollywood,” Teejay said. “Everyone is supportive. They love Eelam Tamils. They love our accent. They love [Velupillai] Prabhakaran. They see him how we see him.”

Teejay's recent album Bandana Vol. 1 featuring Tamil artists from across the diaspora can be streamed on Spotify below.

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