Trolling Goes Too Far, Again: Rape Threats to Vijay Sethupathi’s Daughter Over Muralitharan Biopic

Social Commentary

Trolling Goes Too Far, Again: Rape Threats to Vijay Sethupathi’s Daughter Over Muralitharan Biopic

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

The announcement of a biopic on legendary off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan last week, got cricket fans as well as cinema buffs buzzing. Who wouldn’t want to watch the legend’s incredible life portrayed on screen? However, politics and a targeted hate campaign followed, directed at actor Vijay Sethupathi, and the actor has now decided to pull out from the project.

Several political parties and Tamil nationalist sympathisers have alleged that the movie is an attempt to whitewash a problematic figure. They claim that Muralitharan’s politics caused damage to the cause of Sri Lankan Tamils, and Sethupathi, as a young star of Tamil Cinema shouldn’t glorify him.

The retired cricketer has now weighed in on the issue, sending out a statement from the United Arab Emirates, where he is working with the Sunrisers Hyderabad team. Muralitharan has asked actor Vijay Sethupathi to “step away” from starring in 800. He said that “he doesn’t want to be the reason to derail the career of a great artist like Vijay Sethupathi.” Murali’s statement was shared by Vijay Sethupathi with the caption “Nandri, Vanakkam” as if to suggest that he won’t be starring in 800.

A heated controversy surrounding the movie followed immediately after the announcement. Legendary Tamil film director Bharathiraja wrote an open letter to Sethupathi, pleading with him to drop the project. In the letter, Bharathiraja claimed that Muralitharan was a “traitor of the Tamil race” for the way he conducted himself during the civil war, which ended with the defeat of the LTTE and left lakhs of civilians dead.

Others were more stinging in their criticism. Lyricist Thamarai said that Sethupathi should “spit the project” out rather than letting it fall on him. She suggested that Sethupathi should instead do a biopic on LTTE chief Prabhakaran, rather than the cricketer.

The vile and disgusting aspects of social media were also on naked display. Actor Vijay Sethupathi’s minor daughter was targeted with rape threats, with one user stating that “she should be sexually assaulted in order for her to understand the difficult lives led by Tamils in Sri Lanka”. The comments have come under heavy criticism from all quarters, with DMK MP S Senthil Kumar asking, “Are they human beings?”

DMK MP Kanimozhi Karunanidhi has demanded strict action against the online troll. “The perverse intimidation of Vijay Sethupathi’s daughter is not only barbaric but extremely dangerous to the very fabric of our society,” she said.

While the threats and trolling continue, some in the industry have taken the bold decision to back Sethupathi. Veterean actress Radikaa Sarathkumar pointed out the hypocrisy of the issue, asking why no one was questioning Sun Network owner Kalanithi Maran, the grand nephew of former Chief Minister M Karunanidhi, whose Indian Premier League team Sunrisers Hyderabad has appointed Muralitharan as a mentor.

Politicians trying to censor and bully artists with the help of online armies has now become commonplace. While one has the right to disagree with Sethupathi’s decisions to act in a certain movie, threatening his daughter with rape is simply criminal. The critics were free to not watch the biopic when it releases. But this sinister attempt to force artists to tread the line or face consequences like death or rape threats for simply choosing to act in a movie, is an incredibly sad indictment for freedom of speech and expression in the country.