Calm, cool, and composed with always a hint of a smile on his face. The spin wizard from Kandy, Muthiah Muralidaran. The famous off-spinner was in Calcutta last week to talk about his upcoming biopic 800, directed by M.S. Sripathy, which releases on October 6. Madhurr Mittal of Slumdog Millionaire fame, who plays Muralidaran, accompanied him. t2 caught up with the duo at The Oberoi Grand.
Muthiah Muralidaran at The Oberoi Grand
Murali sir, how has it been working on the biopic and why do you think it’s a good time to tell your story?
Muthiah Muralidaran: I have been coming to Calcutta for a long time... 1990s. This time I came to the IPL as well. People here are very fond of cricket.. the biggest fan base in India. I have worked with Sourav (Ganguly) for Vision 2020 for five years, with (VVS) Laxman. I enjoyed that and tried to help the younger cricketers and motivate the Bengal players to play for India. That was our motive.
Coming to 800, I am happy that someone is making a movie about me because not many cricketers get this chance. It’s an honour. This movie took five years to make because there were lots of obstacles. I’d like to thank everyone... from the director to the producer to the actors to the promoters (for making it happen). It’s releasing on October 6 all over the world, in four languages. Hopefully, people will go to the theatres and watch. 800 is a human story... there is 20 per cent of cricket. They will enjoy it.
How did you filter what you wanted to incorporate and what you wanted to leave out?
Muralidaran: I gave the rights to them only on one condition, it has to be true. There shouldn’t be any masala. I read the script and everything is true. I didn’t want to hide anything. If you are doing a biopic, it has to be genuine... the ups and the lows... whatever mistakes I have made.... Also, I didn’t interfere. I gave the story and read the script. I have seen the trailer. When they were making the film, only once did I go for the shoot. Shehan Karunatilaka (2022 Booker Prize winner) and M.S. Sripathy have written the script. Sripathy researched for two years. I didn’t ask them why did you put this and why did you put that. Cinema works in a certain way. If I say why, then my story will be a documentary. There has to be a flow. So, it is a true story and they have got a nice flow and edited to two-and-half hours. People don’t want to watch too long a film.
Madhurr, were you a little nervous to play the legendary Muthiah Muralidaran?
Madhurr Mittal: Of course, who wouldn’t be? I certainly was at the start. Luckily, when I went to meet Sir for the first time in Chennai, he really put me at ease, which gave me a lot of confidence and took a lot of pressure away from me. That really helped. Then, having an incredible group of people around me, the direction team and the rest of the crew, it gives you the strength to go ahead and give a real attempt at playing this.
How did you train?
Madhurr: I had a bowling coach, the head trainer at Rohit Sharma’s academy and himself a very good off-spinner and a huge fan of Sir. He helped me get Sir’s action as well as I could in the film. Again, I can’t possibly take the credit for that.
Murali sir, what did you think of Madhurr when you saw him in action?
Muralidaran: I can give 70 per cent when it comes to the look, the make-up and in bowling also 70 per cent, action-wise. Also, his emotions look like mine. He has done a great job as an actor. Even the director (M.S. Sripathy) has done a fabulous job.
Madhurr, was there anything you didn’t know about Murali sir and that you got to know through the film?
Madhurr: We all know about Sir’s exploits on the field. So did I, but I was not aware of his entire life story, some of them are even shocking, to say the least. When I read all of those things, which the film is mainly about....
Muralidaran: The backdrop is the sport.
Madhurr: Growing up as a minority community in a war-ravaged country is quite an experience. Some of the scenes are quite shocking. It makes you wonder how a person can go through it all and retain such a kind spirit and be such a strong warrior. Commendable.
Muthiah Muralidaran dropped by at Saltlake Shiksha Niketan school
Murali sir, what does ‘800’ mean to you?
Muralidaran: I retired (announced his retirement) when I had 792 (Test) wickets. Before that, ‘800’ didn’t mean anything to me. It was just a number. The record was 708 (by Shane Warne). I had broken that and after that, whatever number I had, I would be happy. When I took my 800th wicket, after a few months I realised how vital it was. Chennai Super Kings did a huge function and presented me with an 800 jersey. From then on, I wear ‘800’ jersey. I never thought of any movie titled ‘800’. How many people forced me to play another one or two matches... I was adamant. I was going to retire and if it comes, I’ll challenge myself to take 800, and somehow I got it.
Murali sir, how do you think cricket has changed?
Muralidaran: We are in our 50s and when we are in our 70s or older, the next generation will be at the top. Also, the game has changed. We were the Test-playing people. Now, it’s a shorter game because the world wants that. When we had no phones and everything was done through letters, this generation will laugh if you talk about sending a letter to your girlfriend (laughs). Human life has become fast and so the game is changing to adapt to it. We played Test cricket and were calm and laid-back. In Twenty20, there is so much pressure.
Let’s finish with your World Cup selections...
Muralidaran: In the World Cup you need luck and talent. I want Sri Lanka to do well, but honestly speaking, India is the favourite because of the conditions. Then, Australia has a good chance. Then England. Others have an outside chance.
Madhurr: Of course India... no other answer for me. I think the final would be India vs England. South Africa has an outside chance... even New Zealand...
Muralidaran: Pakistan is a very good team and it’s a team, you never know...
Madhurr: On the day, they can beat anyone, but hopefully not... (smiles).
Rapid six with Muthiah Muralidaran:
All-time favourite Indian batsman: Sachin Tendulkar
Current favourite Indian batsman: Virat Kohli
All-time favourite Indian bowler: Anil Kumble
Current favourite Indian bowler: Jasprit Bumrah
Favourite Indian city: Calcutta
Favourite thing to eat in Calcutta: Mishti doi
When Sourav Ganguly met Muthiah Muralidaran at The Oberoi Grand on Thursday, it was nostalgia once more. Glimpses...
Sourav Ganguly and Muthiah Muralidaran left many a kid with a memory of a lifetime with their autographs
“I congratulate you on your new role. You are portraying a master on screen. I’ll definitely watch it because it is Murali,” Sourav Ganguly told Madhurr Mittal.
On which other cricketer would you want a biopic to be made?