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Fire in Babylon

Fire in Babylon
Release date: September 21, 2012 (Releasing this Friday in India)
Directed by: Stevan Riley
Cast: Sir Vivian Richards, Michael Holding, Colin Croft, Clive Lloyd, Gordon Greenidge, Joel Garner, Andy Roberts, Deryck Murray, Desmond Haynes, Bunny Wailer

From the beaches of Jamaica to the cane fields of Barbados, the appearance of a lanky boy bowling at the top of his speed is something not uncommon. The islands of the Caribbean collectively called as the West Indies are connected by a common thread of cricket and that’s what Fire in Babylon is based on.

As Bunny Wailer from Bob Marley & The Wailers starts to tell us how it all started, you get a taste of Rastafarian English when he’s asking the out-of-frame dog to go away. Fire in Babylon begins from the early struggles of the Blacks or as they were referred to – ‘slaves’ – against their colonial masters. The emergence of cricket is similar to its origin in India, i.e. brought upon by the rulers. The English royals.

The newly independent Caribbeans found some expression of growth through the left-behind sport that they learnt from their masters. They became famous for their entertaining playing style and soon got caricatured as the fun-loving, easygoing, “Calypso Cricketers”. Faced with the monstrous Australian pace bowling duo of Dennis Lilee and Jeff Thomson, the West Indians returned back dejected and disgruntled. Thereby forcing their captain, Clive Lloyd, to dig deeper to find a way out of the growing frustration of the players and citizens alike.

Lloyd countered bullet with bullet, and built his own quartet of speed demons, consisting of Michael Holding, Joel Garner, Colin Croft and Andy Roberts. This group terrorized world’s batsmen with the same bowling agenda that the Australians had devised and excelled at it. The story goes on to tell how the legend of the West Indian dominance in cricket helped to grow the morale of the Caribbeans and the suppressed Africans. Fire in Babylon covers almost the entire extent of problems faced by the West Indian cricket team, from the racial slurs to payment issues.

The infamous “grovel” remark by Tony Greig is depicted with the same passion that the West Indian team replied with in the seventies. Every low point is accompanied with a successive struggle and victory. The Apartheid situation where the West Indian players were invited to play in South Africa shows the conflict of emotions and interests between two different ideologies of players and the society. On one hand Croft chooses to play in the banned country to earn a livelihood, Viv Richards stands up for his African brothers and refuses to play even after being handed a “blank cheque” .

The running interviews of the said former players are laced with local ditties by the West Indian musicians who pay tribute to their cricketing heroes. Near realistic footage of the matches help in creating a closer-to-life feel. Fire in Babylon doesn’t even require you to be a cricket fan, let alone a cricket-nerd. It’s a tale of emancipation and eventual inspiration. but it never keeps a dead-faced emotion throughout the course of the film, there are a lot of light moments which downplay the serious tone of the film.

With archive clips of Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Bob Marley and Kerry Packer, Fire in Babylon covers the range of important personalities associated with West Indian cricket and thus creates a universal appeal for the documentary.  It has been almost two years since it released overseas, which is quite a shock given the cricket fanaticism and fandom in India.

Fire in Babylon is the epitome of uprising of West Indian cricket and the cultural impact that it held in the Carib and other countries as well. Give it a watch for the extra-incentive of brushing up your cricket history.

My rating: ***1/2 (3.5 out of 5)

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