Before the West Indian cricket team of the 70's and 80's became what the USSR was to ice-hockey or Brazil was to football, they struggled in their own right. From a team that was battling prejudice, doubt and a fragile self belief, to the eventual transformation of the team into a 'gang', the rise was not just about the sport. It was also the manner in which they became a symbol of power for the migrant population in places like UK and Australia where they stamped their authority. All this and more has been the subject of the poignantly made film, 'Fire in Babylon' by Stevan Riley. While the film was released in the UK in May last year, it released officially in India on Friday, September 21. Riley was in the city to not just promote the film but also talk about the making, says that even though it is a documentary, the film explores the politics of those times.
Seated comfortably amidst a collection of books at the British Council Library, Riley is quick to point out essential facts about the team. “Racial discrimination, the struggle for recognition, an independent country coming to terms with growing out of colonialisation and the desperate need to shake off the tag of 'Calypso Cricketers' were all the factors that worked towards their rise. Desperation gave way to struggle, which in turn forged a team that was not just formidable but unbeatable,” he says.
He began shooting the film in November 2009 and it was completed a year later. Riley mentions that there was a particular reason behind using the word Babylon in the name of the film. Besides being a city, the word 'Babylon' is also a Rastafarian term, which is a religion closely associated with West Indies given Bob Marley's association with it. “The word means prejudice and repression. The title fit the purpose of the film perfectly,” he explains.
The film opens with the introduction of the team by people associated with them along with ex cricketers who were a part of the team. It then goes on to describe how under the leadership of Clive Lloyd the team, which suffered a heavy defeat in Australia, went on to understand the importance of fast bowling, athletic fielding and commanding batting that dismantled bowling and battling attacks from across the globe.
Riley says, “The players went on to become poster boys