World Cup 2023 is underway, but there’s something else that might interest cricket fans now. Playing on the big screen is Sri Lankan cricketer Mutthiah Muralitharan’s biopic, titled 800.
This 159-minute flick starts off with both sports and drama: Murali (played by Madhur Mittal) needs a few wickets to hit the magical 800 mark in his last Test, but some stubborn batting by the Indian tailenders and menacing bowling by Malinga at the other almost threatens to take away from the celebrations. There’s some rain as well earlier in the match. It’s probably the sporting equivalent of Rajinikanth’s introduction sequence in Thalapathi, where the actor — drenched in rain — takes on some bad guys.
If cricket isn’t about romance and drama, what is?
This scene unfolds at a time when Muralitharan is one of the best in the business. But his beginnings were very different. 800 takes us to the fields of Sri Lanka, where Muralitharan’s family struggles to make ends meet even as a young Murali takes to the ball. At a hostel, where he’s admitted as a young boy, toys don’t cut it for him. Neither does milk. All Murali wants is a ball, and all he wants to do is bowl.
All this might make for great cinematic material, but 800 doesn’t go all out. Like Murali’s reticent and almost-hesitant approach to the sport, the film just touches on many aspects of his life, largely sticking to the facts and thus coming across as just a visual record of the cricketer’s glorious achievements.
Director: MS Sripathy
Cast: Madhur Mittal, Mahima Nambiar, King Ratnam, Nasser
Duration: 159 minutes
Storyline: The struggle and rise of legendary Sri Lankan cricketer Mutthiah Muralitharan
Makers of most sporting biopics have the onerous task of choosing the best highs of the protagonist’s life and presenting that as an assortment on the big screen. The problem for 800 director MS Sripathy, who has done a great job with researching Muralitharan’s life, is the multiple angles that are present: a search for identity, a search for passion and the many hurdles in his cricketing journey. By trying to squeeze in all these aspects into his 159-minute runtime, Sripathy’s material lacks a certain focus.
However, it does have the highs. Like the first time Muralitharan discovers that he can spin the ball, a moment that gives him great joy. Or, much later, when he’s just a few inches away from the 800-wicket mark, a sequence that thankfully gives us a tension-filled last-ball finish kind of experience. There’s also simmering tension in the scene where Murali comes face-to-face with separatist groups, the leader of which is played by actor Narain. There is definitely some sincerity in these sequences. Take the lead actor, Madhur Mittal, for instance. Some audience members might be tempted to veer into the ‘What if Vijay Sethupathi had played this role?’ debate, but Madhur is apt and presents to us what Muralitharan really is, not just in demeanour and body language but also in his unorthodox bowling action. It’s not just Madhur; 800 gets most of its secondary casting right, prime among that being King Ratnam as Arjuna Ranatunga.
RD Rajasekar’s camera not just captures the different moods of the protagonist, who is trying repeatedly to prove himself to the world, but also provides visual insight into the cricket matches.
The chucking controversy, a huge part of Muralitharan’s career, gets a lot of screentime. While that might be important to the story, it can get a little jarring for people who aren’t too interested in the game and its intricacies. That’s the general mood of 800 itself. It might take cricket lovers on a nostalgic ride to the past, but it lacks the firepower to reach a winning total.
800 is currently in theatres