Shehan Karunatilaka, a writer who is associated with Muttiah Muralitharan’s biopic 800 starring actor Vijay Sethupathi, appealed to people to give a chance to the creators of the movie and allow them to go ahead with the movie.
“Don’t condemn a movie before it is made. Don’t deny the creators a chance to explore one of Sri Lanka’s most interesting and divisive figures. Don’t let cancel culture become our latest import from the west,” he wrote in his blog.
He also revealed a few points on what the movie would be about in his blog, and said he wanted his blog to be an open letter to actor Vijay Sethupathi, who was supposed to play Muttiah’s role in the film.
Vijay Sethupathi had pulled out of the movie following severe criticism by people, since the Tamil audience felt that Muttiah, who was allegedly a supporter of the Rajapaksa government in Sri Lanka, which is accused of a massive genocide against Tamil people, must not be honoured this way, particularly by a well-loved actor like Vijay Sethupathi.
Muttiah too had appealed to the actor to withdraw from the film, saying he did not want a talented actor to face criticism in this regard.
The Kollywood industry had been split on its views on Sethupathi taking up the role, with director Bharathiraaja urging him to drop the film, while a few other actors including Sarathkumar supported the actor’s decision to act in this film.
Commenting on the actor’s withdrawal, Shehan said, “He has been dismissed from the crease not by the umpire’s finger, but by the boos of the crowd.”
“This is what I would say to Sethupathi if he was still doing our movie and was open to opening open letters. Or wounds. Don’t cancel the match because a few in that section of the crowd are screaming ‘no ball’,” he added, according to Times of India.
Shehan also mentioned the reason behind his decision to be part of the project as screenplay writer. He added that he has written seven drafts for the story already.
He further said he wanted to ask two questions that he would not have the “guts” to ask Muralidharan in person, which were “1) What is it like to be called the Greatest Of All Time and a Cheat/Fraud/Chucker by the same set of fans? 2) What was it like to be a Tamil boy in a mostly Sinhala dressing room at a time when the two races were at war?”
“For a writer, Murali is a fascinating man and a mesmerising tale,” Shehan asserted, and added that for an artist, it would “be the role of a lifetime”.
“Sripathy (director) and I were never interested in telling the heroic tale of a great bowler. In doing a puff piece that glorifies or whitewashes,” Shehan said and revealed that the script that they had written attempts to answer questions like, “How did a Tamil boy from the plantations whose family business was burnt down by Sinhala mobs manage to play for Sri Lanka and surpass the likes of Ian Botham, Richard Hadlee, Kapil Dev and yes, Shane Warne in the record books?” and “Was his decision to focus on bowling off-spin and avoid politics a wise one, or a callous one?”
The writer also pointed out the uproar over Vijay Sethupathi’s acceptance to play the role, highlighting the current level of freedom of expression in the country. “Who made the rules saying actors can’t play controversial figures or perceived villains? Was there an uproar when they gave an Oscar to a movie about Churchill, a man responsible for far more deaths than the LTTE? Arguably,” he asked.
Shehan also wondered, “We can make films about Stalin and Genghis Khan and Christopher Columbus. But not a smiling off-spinner from Kandy who happens to say the wrong things in interviews? Isn’t unravelling complex characters and examining historical legacies what art is supposed to do?”
Shehan concluded that the film did not deal with the political life of Muralidharan and said, “The movie I wrote ends in 2010 when Murali takes his 800th wicket. (I’d say spoiler alert, but the title got there first). Which politicians he shares stages with in 2019 is not a topic dealt with in the script of 800.
“But there is a crucial scene where Murali, on one of his many charity missions for the Foundation of Goodness, meets with the top brass of the LTTE and has a heated discussion on the war. I won’t tell you what happens in that scene, for that would really be a spoiler. But let us make the film and we will show you,” he ended on a suspenseful note.