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Muthiah Muralidaran on 800: ‘I’m very privileged that someone made a biopic on my life’

Slumdog Millionaire actor Madhurr Mittal plays Sri Lankan cricketer Muthiah Muralidaran in this film streaming on JioCinema

Sameer Salunkhe Calcutta Published 05.12.23, 02:37 PM
Muthiah Muralidaran

Muthiah Muralidaran Instagram

M.S. Sripathy-directed 800, the biopic of cricketer Muthiah Muralidaran, is streaming on JioCinema. The legendary Sri Lankan off-spinner, who holds the world record of taking 800 wickets in test cricket, was recently in Mumbai for the film’s promotions. We met Muralidaran at the Hyatt Centric Hotel in Mumbai and listened to him as he poured his heart out on the journey of the film.

The film is titled 800. Your 800th wicket was Pragyan Ojha, an Indian. 800 the film is made in India. Is all this just a coincidence?

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Muthiah Muralidaran: The film is made in India because of my origin, from my grandfathers to everyone, from Tamil Nadu. Tamil was our mother tongue in Sri Lanka as well. I am the second generation in Sri Lanka. So, that’s why the interest was there in an Indian filmmaker to make the movie. If it was completely a Sri Lankan story, they would never have approached me. After all, there would not be a connection with India.

They decided to make the film because there’s a connection with India through so many things, a lot of it with Tamil Nadu. Plus, cricket is a universal language. Although I am a Sri Lankan, the Indian public is familiar with me as I have played the IPL with Chennai Super Kings and worked with Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH).

What was your reaction when the idea of a biopic was presented to you?

Muthiah Muralidaran: It was 2018. M.S. Sripathy (director of 800) was working as an assistant director with filmmaker Venkat Prabhu. Prabhu and Sripathy, along with some other people, came to Sri Lanka to visit our Foundation of Goodness, through which we help people. Then they came to my house as Venkat Prabhu is a childhood friend of my wife.

While we were chatting, Venkat Prabhu came up with the idea for this film. I did not say yes immediately. See, I am a retired cricketer. At that time, I was still with Sunrisers Hyderabad as a coach. The film seemed like another task because I have gone through so much in life and they don’t know anything about it. Then my manager said that they would help the foundation. Then only I said okay, fine. That’s how it happened.

It took five years to make 800. We lost two years because of Covid-19. But in my life, I have completed whatever I was chasing. I don’t walk away halfway. Once you start and once you say okay to something, you have to be fully involved in it to finish it. That’s the attitude I have. I didn’t know how we would finish the film but we did it and it has come out nicely.

Madhurr Mittal (right), who plays Muthiah Muralidaran in 800, with the cricketer

Madhurr Mittal (right), who plays Muthiah Muralidaran in 800, with the cricketer

Did you interact with actor Madhurr Mittal, who plays you in 800, before the shoot?

Muthiah Muralidaran: I met him once in Chennai when Sripathy introduced him to me. I went to Kandy once where they were shooting at the time. After that, I met him during the promotions because I had nothing to do with any of this. Everything else was done by the director, Sripathy, and he pulled it off phenomenally. It was a difficult task for them.

Sripathy researched my life for two years to write the script of 800. There were ups and downs because of Covid. Then the Vijay Sethupathi (who was initially cast as Muralidaran) saga happened. It is great of him to wait patiently and stay focused on the final output. Sripathy is a young director and it’s a big film in terms of scale and budget. He has done justice to the film and that’s why a platform like JioCinema has decided to stream it.

Also, the film has a social message, which is equally important. Madhurr has acted fabulously. This is also different from what he has done so far. It must have been a tough task for him to get my bowling action and my mannerisms right, more so because I didn’t interact with him much for the part. But the director knew me inside out as we interacted a lot over a long time.

The director coached the actor very well. But no matter how much you coach, at the end of the day you have to go and play in the middle. And I think Madhurr played well.

What was it like to see your life in a motion picture on the big screen?

Muthiah Muralidaran: I have seen a lot of biopics, like those on M.S. Dhoni, Sachin (Tendulkar), Pele and Muhammad Ali. Those are very inspiring moments for me — to see another sportsman. I think I am very privileged that someone made a biopic on my life. At first, I didn’t feel like that. After seeing the movie, I felt that it was something special because it was going to be there for a lifetime.

If someone wants to know me, they can watch 800. Do you all talk about Bradman (late Australian cricketer Sir Donald Bradman) now? No. Sometimes even the footage is not there to see how he was and how he played. In that sense, people may not know who I am because I have long retired. But if someone comes across my name and wants to know about my life, they can just go watch 800. Especially because of the way the film has been made. The film is very real.

Sripathy has been very particular about the locations. He has shot on real locations — the hostel I lived in, the school I studied at. When I watched 800, it reminded me of what I was like at every stage of my life. That kind of feeling was there throughout the movie.

I watched 800 at its Hindi premiere in Mumbai. Then I watched it in Tamil in Chennai. Later, I watched the Sinhalese version in Colombo. I was happy.

What moved you about the kind of response that 800 received on its release?

Muthiah Muralidaran: The comments. Not from fans, but from the media. Barring a couple of critics, I have mostly read positive reviews of the film. When the experts say it’s a good movie to watch, I feel proud of it.

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