By Karikalan Navaratnam –
“Muralitharan” is yet another name for Lord Krishna, an avatar of Lord Vishnu. There are two muckety-mucks in Sri Lanka, putatively ethnic Tamils, who are named after the good Lord. They have hogged the limelight for different “feats”.
However, Muttiah Muralitharan ( Murali), the cricket star, and Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan (Karuna Amman), the LTTE rebel-turned-renegade, share a common trait – propensity to betray. It is a lethal congenital abnormality ! Both Muralitharans have grievously hurt the Tamil people by their separate acts of betrayal. They remain the blue-eyed boys of the Rajapaksas.
Before discussing cricketer Murali’s politics, let me briefly reflect on the other Murali (Karuna) – how the Sinhala-Buddhist (SB) political class reacted to his betrayal: Karuna’s original patron was Ranil Wickremesinghe, who had duly claimed credit for engineering the major LTTE split in early 2004. Naturally, SB nationalists were quite gleeful about the LTTE schism and the ensuing fratricidal war between the rebel factions of the North and the East. They savoured the moment with obvious relish. SB media moguls and columnists, in an effort to exacerbate the rift and rancour, sought to embrace the Eastern Tamils like long lost families and to rationalize Karuna’s rebellion. “Divide et impera” (Divide and conquer) was an imperial strategy of yore which remains handy to the SB racists even today. Further, even Karuna’s crimes including the brutal massacre of 600 surrendered policemen in June 1990 in eastern Sri Lanka were either conveniently forgotten, forgiven or papered over.
Let’s shift the focus onto Muralitharan, the cricketer. It appears that Bollywood’s original attempts at producing a cinematic biopic on the lives of Indian cricketers, Dhoni, Sachin Tendulkar, Azharuddin and others, if any, have been enticing investments. Murali’s family in Chennai may have mused over the prospects:
Why not replicate in Kollywood (the word being a portmanteau of Kodambakkam and Hollywood, refers to the heartland of South Indian film industry in Chennai), the rewarding experience of Bollywood? “Make hay while the sun shines, dance all night in the moonlight…..”
Murali, as Governor ?
Evidently, the blueprint for the biopic has been in the making for quite a while, at least, from the time Murali declined Rajapaksas’ offer of a gubernatorial position. The offer made in the wake of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s election victory on 17th Nov. 2019 was obviously in recognition of Murali’s services as a star campaigner for Gotabaya’s Presidential Election. Murali promptly denied that Governor job of the Tamil Northern Province was ever offered to him. Mainstream media outlets in India/Sri Lanka had reported on the impending posting. Some reports had given hints of opposition to his posting, which may have compelled Murali to beat a hasty retreat :
“…..(T)he northern province Tamils are already expressing their opposition to his nomination. Murali’s stand on alleged war crimes against the Tamils committed during the tenure of Gotabaya as Defence secretary under the presidency of his elder brother Mahinda Rajapaksa between 2005 and 2015 has angered the Tamils – both Sri Lankan and Indian Tamils ……Murali has always maintained that there were no war crimes….”. (NEWS18 Channel, Hyderabad, INDIA, 21 Nov.2019 –“Speculation over Muralitharan’s New Role as Governor Upsets Tamils ….” )
Padma Rao Sundarji , a veteran foreign correspondent based in New Delhi, had broached the subject with Murali in a telephone interview:
“Q. Can you confirm media reports that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has offered you – and you have accepted – the vacant post of Governor of Sri Lanka’s Northern Province (NP) ? ”
“A. No, it is a rumour that was first floated on Facebook. I was not offered that post and in any case have made it clear that I am not interested in politics. I am a sportsman, a cricket player, not a politician…..”(Hindustan Times, 06 Dec. 2019)
Was Murali forthright in his response? Certainly not. Within a few months of his denial he had contradicted himself and admitted that Gotabaya offered him the governorship . : “….. Even before he became President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa invited me to join the Viyathmaga platform. So I gladly accepted this offer,” Muralitharan said. He went on to say ……that ‘After the presidential election, he wanted me to accept a post as the Governor of the Northern Province. But I convinced him that I was only a sportsman, who didn’t know anything about politics……’ Muralitharan recalled.” (Daily Mirror, 03 July 2020 – “I fielded my brother as I’m reluctant to engage in politics: Murali” )
In any event, Murali’s governor appointment had since been shelved. However, extensive media coverage on the subject has perhaps enhanced Murali’s profile and improved his marketability. Social media reports suggest that Murali’s family is involved in the biopic project, although Dar Motion Pictures headquartered out of Mumbai is bankrolling the movie which is titled 800. The title signifies the number of international Test wickets taken by the spinner. Sripathy Rangasamy will be the Director.. Shehan Karunatilaka, a Sri Lankan writer has co-written the film script with director Sripathy. The crunch came when popular Kollywood artiste Vijay Sethupathi agreed to play the lead role. Vijay is an accomplished artiste. He has been in the field, playing minor roles since 2005, when he got a break in 2010 in “Thenmerku Paruvakaatru” (“Southwest Monsoon Breeze”).The film opened up new vistas for him and a portfolio of successive films had progressively propelled him to stardom.
Actor Vijay Sethupathi
Murali appeared to be comfortable with Vijay playing the role. To a question on what his initial thoughts were when he learned that Vijay was going to play him on screen, Muralitharan replies, “Right, it should be him. The facial features are similar to mine. He is also a good actor, and everyone knows that…… so he would only suit this.” And, how did Vijay react?. The actor says, “I do not know cricket at all, so I did not know how to present this in a new way. During my childhood, the boys would take me to play mainly to fetch the ball. I told this ( to Murali) in our first meeting and he said that is the right qualification. I liked this way of approach.” (Times of India, 12 Oct.2020- “This is what Vijay Sethupathi told Muralitharan in their first meeting!”)
Tamil nationalists living across the Palk-strait keep their ear to the ground in regard to ongoing acts of aggression and villainy by the island’s SB fascist ruling class, targeting the Eelam Tamils – and keep an eye on collaborators and the running dogs of the racist regime. Veteran Movie directors Bharathirajah, Ameer, Cheran, Gowthaman, Kalanchiam, lyricist Ms.Thamarai et al were among the leading lights from the film industry besides Tamil Nadu Political leaders Vaiko (MP), Thirumavalavan (MP), Dr. Ramadoss (PMK leader) and Seeman (Naam Thamilar leader) who have voiced their opposition to glorifying Muralitharan.
They believe that actor Vijay Sethupathi, a rising star of Tamil cinema, should not become a vehicle to glorify Murali, whose politics, they allege, is abhorrent to Eelam Tamils’ cause. They have urged Vijay to withdraw from the film project. Speaking to the media, Director Ameer has quipped: “How will Modi react if (Bollywood’s) Salman Khan offers to play the role of cricketer Imran Khan(currently, Pakistan PM)?”
Two veteran movie stars of Tamil Nadu – Radhika Sarathkumar and Khushpoo Sundhar – have, in their twitter postings, zealously defended the project and the actor Vijay. Incidentally, Radhika was born in Sri Lanka to a Sinhala mother Geetha. Her father was a veteran Tamil actor M.R. Radha, a Periyar sentinel and Dravidian flag-bearer ! Khushpoo, the actor/politician, originally from a Bombay Muslim family is married to a Tamilian, movie director. She is a bundle of contradictions – the Periyarist/feminist has recently crossed over from the Congress party to the Hindutva BJP. Sri Lankan media used the occasion as a fig leaf to cover up their naked racism.
“The majority Sri Lankans loved him (Murali) so much because he represented the Minority Tamils (Is that so ? My foot !) and also because he blended beautifully with the rest of the players who were mostly Sinhalese. ….. (Daily Mirror, 23 Oct. 2020 – Editorial)
According to Hindu mythology, Lord Shiva wears a cobra snake around his neck. Snakes are part of eagles’ staple diet and are mortally afraid of eagles. A theme song scripted by renowned Tamil poet/ lyricist Kannadasan for a film Suryagandhi (Sunflower) depicted a paradoxical situation – perched around Shiva’s neck, the cobra asked (the eagle), “how are you doing?” The underlying message? While enjoying the protective care and patronage of powerful person(s), even a parvenu exhibits arrogance, thumbs his nose at others and talks impudently. That is what Murali has been doing vis-à-vis fellow Tamils convulsed in the throes of majoritarian politics in Sri Lanka. Some of Murali’s perfidious acts/comments have deeply hurt the Tamils.
* “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 LTTE, 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.” (The Hindu, 17 Oct. 2020 – “Muttiah Muralitharan: ‘I did not support the killing of innocent civilians’”) That is a hackneyed response!
* Hundreds of young Tamil men and women who surrendered to the security forces during the final stage of the war had ‘disappeared ’. Victims’ families had organized campaigns demanding to know the whereabouts of their loved ones. During British PM David Cameron’s 2013 visit to Jaffna, in an an attempt to draw his attention to the issue, the families had held public demonstrations. Reportedly, Murali had derisively called their emotional reaction a fake.
“The rancour towards Muralitharan dates back to 2013 when he said then British Prime Minister David Cameron that he may have been “misled” about the situation of Tamils in the north after Cameron visited the area and was met by tens of mothers, wives and sisters who were still searching for their loved ones who had disappeared during the war.” (Al Jazeera, 20 Oct.2020 )
* Wimal Weerawansa epitomises the baser instincts ingrained in the psyche of retarded rabid Sinhala-Buddhist bigots. He has always been baying for Tamil blood. Without any compunction, Murali found comfort in organizing Wimal’s election campaign among the Tamils in Colombo.
“Cricketing legend Muttiah Muralitharan is backing Minister Wimal Weerawansa’s campaign for the Parliamentary election. Weerawansa’s media unit said that Muralitharan had organised a meeting between Weerawansa and Tamil businessmen in Colombo over the weekend. The meeting took place at the Kingsbury Hotel in Colombo……. (Colombo Gazette, 13 July 2020- “Murali throws his weight behind Wimal’s polls campaign.”)
In a Facebook post, Mano Ganesan MP said: “In cricket, he (Muralitharan) is a hero, but politically a zero,” referring to a meeting that the star cricketer participated in ……sharing the dais with a hard-line Sinhala nationalist politician Wimal Weerawansa, a long-time ally of Rajapaksas ….” (The Hindu, 17 Oct.2020)
* During Padma Rao Sundarji’s interview with Murali (Supra – The Hindustan Times, 6th Dec. 2019) he did not mince his words about his loyalty to the Rajapaksas and had also indicated that he did not care two hoots for the opinions of Tamil Nadu leaders. In effect, he had warned Tamil Nadu leaders, ‘Hands off Sri Lanka’ (EXCERPTS) :
“Q: ……… your support for President Rajapaksa during his election campaign has raised hackles in those parts of Sri Lanka (i.e., North and East). The Tamil majority there voted against Rajapaksa at the presidential election last month. They hold him responsible for alleged human rights violations at the end of the civil war in 2009. ……What do you say to them?
A: …. I am a Tamil myself. Sure, I live in Colombo… When I play cricket for Sri Lanka, each and every Sri Lankan – including the Sinhalese majority supports me. …..There were riots in the seventies and again in the eighties, hundreds of Sinhalese and Tamils were killed. But surely that doesn’t mean every Tamil or Sinhalese is a bad person or that the majority of any one community is bad ?……”
( My Q.: On what planet was Murali living when these riots took place? Doesn’t he know that the victims of these anti-Tamil riots were exclusively Tamils and the perpetrators were Sinhala mob? It’s a travesty to seek to equate the victims with the perpetrators).
“Q: Most Tamil Nadu politicians are against President Rajapaksa too. The Indian state is your second home through marriage. How do you explain your allegiance to Mr. Rajapaksa to people there?
A: Tell me, if there is a problem within your family, do your neighbours interfere? Tamil Nadu politicians do not understand the problems of Sri Lankans. They should allow our government to get on with governance. I support President Rajapaksa because he is the right person to lead our country. ……. President Rajapaksa is an administrator, a former defence secretary and army man. He is a clever person who will carry out reforms, strike a different path, improve lives and do the right thing.”
It is alleged that Murali had, in an interview with “Kalki” (Tamil weekly, Chennai), claimed that he did not know Tamil. And further, he had often signed his autographs in Sinhala. Also, Murali had denigrated Tamils saying that they suffered from an inferiority complex.
“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…… 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. (ibid: The Hindu, 17Oct.2020)
* Muralitharan fielded his brother Muttiah Prabakaran to contest the recent Parliamentary election (held 5th Aug. 2020) as Rajapaksas’ SLPP party nominee from Nuwara-Eliya district. (He got defeated). “…..Muralitharan said that …, he directed his brother towards politics following a request from the President. Muralitharan made these comment during an election rally in Maskeliya held in support of his brother” (Daily Mirror, 03 July 2020 “I fielded my brother as I’m reluctant to engage in politics: Murali”)
In the wake of backlash against the biopic ‘800’, Murali had issued a lengthy statement in Tamil couched in conciliatory language. He has said “he was saddened by those who are portraying him as someone against the Tamils.”
It is a far cry from the dismissive tone which marked his earlier response to ‘Hindustan Times’ (Supra) Why this change? Now he needs the Tamil constituency to market his product. He sounded cocky earlier because he thought that Rajapaksas’ patronage would suffice for him to advance his career.
In the face of mounting pressure, Vijay Sethupathi has now withdrawn from the biopic project. In the meantime Murali also has requested Vijay to back out: “In the statement, Muralitharan wrote, ‘I am making this request as I don’t want one of the greatest Tamil actors to be affected because of me. In addition, I also don’t want him to face any hurdles in the future because of this film.’” (Cinema Express, 19 Oct. 2020 )
In his statement, Muralitharan expressed confidence that the project will go on to be finished, despite this casting change. However, it is unclear who will be replacing Vijay Sethupathi in the film. Good luck Mr. Muralitharan!