Actor Vijay Sethupathi has, in the last few days, faced severe criticism on social media for having agreed to play the lead role in 800, the biopic of Sri Lankan Tamil cricketing icon, Muttiah Muralitharan.
Sections of Tamil society and political parties urged the actor not to be a part of the film that celebrates the life and achievements of the cricketer.
Mr. Muralitharan’s comment in 2019 that “2009 was the happiest day in my life”, has been cited as proof of his support to the final war against the Tamil rebel group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, in 2009, in which thousands of innocent civilians were killed, and his support to Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s regime, which continues to face serious allegations of war crimes.
Responding to criticism, the Sri Lankan cricketing legend on Friday said his comments about the end of war in 2009 had been taken out of context.
In a statement in Tamil, Mr. Muralitharan said, “In a country that has been at war, we don’t know what will happen and when. A friend who used to play with me in school would not be alive the next day. Those who leave the house would have to return home for us to be sure of their safety. From an ordinary citizen’s point of view, the end of war made me feel safe, and, in the last ten years, there haven’t been any deaths on either sides… I had this in my heart when I said that 2009 was a happy day in my life. I did not support the killings of innocent people and I would not do it,” he said.
Mr. Muralitharan also denied reports that he did not know Tamil and addressed the accusation against him that he had said that Tamils have an inferiority complex.
“It is natural to have an inferiority complex when you are a minority amid the Sinhala people. My parents and I had it. However, my interest in cricket pushed me to join the cricket team in my school and my talent made it impossible for others to ignore me. Which is why I said that our inferiority complex should be thrown away and we should trust our talent,” he said.
Mr. Muralitharan said that he considers all ethnicities as one and the same.
“As a hill country Tamil, I have helped more Eelam Tamils than the hill country Tamils. I don’t like to talk about it, but I am being forced to do it. When I was the Ambassador for the United Nations World Food Program in 2002, the Eelam Tamils will remember, how I took the program to the schools in the regions controlled by the LTTE, and, then, later, to regions affected by the Tsunami,” he said.
The off-spinner also said that through his charity, the Foundation Of Goodness, he was involved in several initiatives that provided education to women or ensured medical services reached the Eelam Tamils. “We are also conducting a cricket competition called ‘Murali Harmony Cup’ in the north and south. Just because I made a name in the Sri Lankan cricket team, I have been unfairly portrayed. Had I been born in India, I would have tried to get into the Indian cricket team. Is it my fault that I was born a Sri Lankan Tamil?” he asked.
He said he was saddened by those who are portraying him as someone against the Tamils.
“Though I know that no amount of clarification will pacify those who oppose me, I am providing this clarification for the neutrals and the people who read one-sided news about me,” he said.