An outburst of opposition has been growing across social media after Kollywood actor Vijay Sethupathi announced last week on Twitter that he would be playing the role of Muthiah Muralitharan in the Sri Lankan cricketer’s biopic, with users worldwide urging the actor to drop the project.
Tamils from across the world expressed their protest against Vijay Sethupathi’s movie by using the hashtag #ShameonVijaySethupathi, calling on him to drop the film. Muralitharan has been widely criticised over his close ties with the Rajapaksas and his repeated attempts to denigrate the Tamil nationalist movement.
The first look poster of the film showed the actor donning a Sri Lankan cricket jersey with the flag of the country on it. The lion-flag has long been seen as a totem of Sinhalese domination of the island and subjugation of Tamils. This caused further chagrin to Kollywood audience as Vijay Sethupathi is a widely popular actor and it has also given rise to attempts to induce him to abandon the project.
Director Seenu Ramasamy, who gave Sethupathi his most important breakthrough in Tamil cinema with the film Thenmerku Paruvakaatru, tweeted; ‘Vijay Sethupathi’s heart is the world Tamil community.’ And he went on in his tweet to request the actor to jetttison the film on Muralitharan. ‘Makkal Selva! You are the property of all Tamils. Please change your decision?’ the director pleaded. Eminent Tamil lyricist Vairamuthu tweeted a poetic advise to Sethupathi:
'To artist Vijay Sethupathi:
Sometimes praise accrued from not doing a deed,
is greater than that received by dint of doing a deed!
You are up and coming,
why reach the shores whilst you are still in the waxing stage?
To pass up cultural rights
in favour of national rights, is sagacity.
You are sagacious!'
Lyricist Thamarai has also written an open letter to the actor on Facebook also calling on him to drop the movie.
Tweets containing videos of Muralitharan blatantly disparaging the families of people who disappeared during the end of the war and supporting the Rajapaksas have also made the rounds on the internet. In one interview he says; ‘I have said this before. I still say it. Sri Lanka is a Sinhala-Budddhist country. Of course I am a Tamil. But I am a Sri Lankan first and then a Tamil.’
Apart from the flurry of tweets and posts on social media denouncing Vijay Sethupathi or imploring him to drop the film, a groundswell of opposition has also been building up amongst Tamil Nadu political circles. V. Eswaran of the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) led by long-standing supporter of Eelam struggle Vaiko, told Times of India that ‘Muralitharan might be a good cricketer, but he was silent on the issue of welfare of Tamils in Sri Lanka.’ The Thanthai Periyar Dravidar Kazhagam (TPDK) also denounced the portrayal of Muralitharan by Vijay Sethupathi. K. Ramakrishnan, president of the party, said ‘when there was a genocide of Tamil people in the civil war, he did not speak up for them, instead, he supported the Sinhalese.’
More significantly, chief-coordinator of the Naam Tamilar Katchi Senthamizhan Seeman has released a statement 'warmly advising' his 'younger brother' Vijay Sethupathi to drop the movie. 'You should have quit the film as soon as Rajapaksa's son started celebrating it,' Seeman wrote. He continued: 'From where did the thought arise that traitor Muralitharan's biopic could be screened in Tamil Nadu? Shouldn't it have been known that if one celebrates Muralitharan, he will be incinerated from the hearts of Tamils? The life of Muralitharan may be screened in the streets of Colombo. But it will never happen in the streets of Tamil Nadu.' 'Therefore, I warmly advise younger brother Vijay Sethupathi to respect the sentiment of Tamils who live around the world and opt out of the film completely post-haste,' concluded Seeman in his trenchant statement.
Veteran Kollywood director Bharathiraja has also written an open letter to Sethupathi. 'When our Eelam Tamil brothers were dying, Mutthiah was playing fiddle. He completely endorsed Sinhala chauvisnism,' Bharathiraja wrote. 'If you dropped this film, you will be regarded with gratitude by the Eelam people and me."
Muralitharan with war crimes accused Sri Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa
One of the most vociferous opponents of the movie is Vanni Arasu of the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK). He told the media that Muralitharan had tarnished the name of Nelson Mandela when he called Mahinda Rajapaksa as ‘Sri Lanka’s Nelson Mandela.’ "We don’t condemn Vijay Sethupathi," he said. "We only request him to drop the film. He is much admired by the Tamil audience. He wouldn’t be the right fit to play the role of Muralitharan. Muttiah Muralitharan, even though he is of Tamil ethnicity, has been a consistent apologist for Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinism and has frequently disparaged the Tamil nationalist movement."
One of his more outrageous statements include when following the carnage of Mullivaikal in 2009, he said he would ‘now be able to sleep peacefully.’ Further irritating Tamil nationalists, Namal Rajapaksa son of Mahinda Rajapaksa tweeted welcoming the news about the movie. So did Kumar Sangakkara, another Sri Lankan cricketer with a history of warming up to Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinism. The makers of the film recently put out a statement trying to mollify concerns about the movie. However, it remains to be seen whether the degree of opposition would impel Vijay Sethupathi to abandon the project. If he presses ahead with it, there is no doubt that it will be detrimental to his popularity amongst the Tamil audience.