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Vijay Sethupathi faces backlash after announcement of Murali film

Popular Kollywood actor Vijay Sethupathi is facing growing criticism online after announcing that he was “honoured” to play the leading role in a film on the life of controversial Sri Lankan cricketer Muttiah Muralitharan.

“Honoured to be a part of this landmark project,” posted the actor on social media channels as he announced that the reported sport biopic on the cricketer would be coming soon. "Vijay Sethupathi is Muthiah Muralidaran," read the poster.

In an earlier interview, Sethupathi is reported to have said that he was "happy to be associated with the Muthiah Muralitharan biopic”. “He is an iconic sportsman of Tamil origin and someone who has made his mark across the world,” he added. “Portraying the role of Murali is going to be a challenge for me and I am looking forward to it."

However, the actor has faced backlash from Tamils and their supporters online, over his decision to take up the role.

Muralitharan with war crimes accused Sri Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa

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 “did not have any problems as a Tamil”, and even claimed that former British prime minister David Cameron had been “misled” over reports of rights 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.

Muralitharan with Sinhala extremist politician Wimal Weerawansa.

Earlier this year, Muralitharan backed the leader of the National Freedom Front and prominent Sinhala Buddhist nationalist Wimal Weerawansa at Sri Lanka’s general elections, in a show of his continued support for Sinhala extremism.

Murali has also previously been critical of Tamil Nadu himself, stating “if there is a problem within your family, do your neighbours interfere?”. “Tamil Nadu politicians do not understand the problems of Sri Lankans,” he added. “They should allow our government to get on with governance.”

In 2013, Tamils in the North-East criticised the cricketer, with the Councillor P Sritharan of the Chaavakachcheri Urban Council stating,

“Perhaps, Muralitharan was playing cricket overseas when the Tamil people in the North were suffering and scores of young men and women disappeared. He has hurt the feelings of the Tamil people, grieving the loss of their loved ones, by undermining their struggles.”

Hundreds of comments have been posted across social media platforms since the announcement was made this morning, calling on the actor to boycott the project. Though the actor is yet to respond, there will be growing pressure on Kollywood to consider the project.

One person who did praise news of the film was Namal Rajapaksa, son of current prime minister and accused war criminal Mahinda Rajapaksa.

“Amidst the chaos, the great news of #VijaySethupathi playing the role of legendary spinner Muttiah Muralitharan in the upcoming biopic ‘800’ is great news,” he tweeted. “It is only fair that actor of such great calibre play the role of our cricket legend.”

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