Trouble erupted for Tamil film hero Vijay Sethupathi after the motion poster of his biopic on Sri Lankan spinner Muthiah Muralidharan was released evoking strong protests from pro-Tamil groups in the state. Twitter exploded with “ShammeonVijaySethupathi” hashtag. (More Cricket News)

 Vijay Sethupathi (44), a popular hero who does not shirk from offbeat roles including that of a transgender, plays Muthiah Muralitharan in the Tamil biopic “800” –  the highest number of test wickets Sri Lanka’s most famous bowler has scalped. The film depicts Murali’s struggle as a Tamil kid from the tea estate of the island nation’s central region of Kandy amidst a civil war between the nation’s Tamil rebels (from the North and East) and the Sinhala majority government.

When the film was announced last year with Vijay Sethupathi as the lead, there were loud protests claiming that Murali was a supporter of the Rajapkasa government accused of genocide of Tamils during the final stages of its war against the LTTE in 2009. At that time Sethupathy had declared that the film would not portray anything that would hurt Tamils since “I would not like to lose the support of the people who love me.”

But the release of the film’s motion poster on Tuesday has reignited the controversy with Tamil activists and netizens recalling the pro-Rajapkasa comments and his support for the military action against the LTTE that Murali had reportedly made in the past. Many of them questioned how Sethupathi could wear the white T-shirt with Sri Lankan flag embossed on it “since it stood for a government that massacred Tamils and Tamil fishermen.” Social media was flooded with similar messages urging Sethupathi to pull out from the film. The return of the Rajapkasa brothers as President and Prime Minister has also fuelled the controversy.

The Tamil film to be shot in Sri Lanka, India, U.K and Australia from next year and to be released by the end of 2021 will also be dubbed in all South Indian languages, as well as Hindi, Bengali, and Sinhalese. An international version with English subtitles is also being planned.

The motion poster depicts drawings of war scenes, explosions and even the infamous LTTE shootout of a bus carrying Lankan soldiers that sparked the 1983 anti-Tamil riots. It also shows Murali bowling in the backdrop of all this violence and also being no-balled for his suspect action and later disproving the same.

Even director Seenu Ramaswamy who directed Sethupathi’s first film urged him to reconsider acting in the biopic. Vanni Arasu, spokesperson of VCK recalled that Murali had once described Rajapkasa as “Sri Lanka’s Nelson Mandela '' and described him as an enemy of Tamils. The anti-Lanka lobby was further angered by the tweet of Nalan Rajapkasa, the Sri Lankan Prime Minister’s son, congratulating Sethupathy for his striking resemblance to Murali in the film poster.

M.S. Sripathy, director of “800” has explained that Sethupathi would not act in any film that would hurt any section of the society. “When the film is released all these misgivings would disappear,” he said. Murali, who is married to the daughter of a Tamil doctor couple from Chennai, is presently the bowling coach of IPL team Sunrisers Hyderabad, which is owned by Sun TV's Kalanithi Maran, who is the cousin of DMK president M.K. Stalin and elder brother of DMK MP Dayanidhi Maran.