Cricket fans are bowled over by Stevan Riley’s Fire in Babylon

Whether you are a cricket buff or a film buff, you should probably give Stevan Riley’s critically acclaimed documentary on the rise of the West Indies cricket, Fire in Babylon a chance. The film in its last leg of worldwide theatrical release opened in India on Friday.

Riley is in India to promote his film. Sunaman Sood and Manas Malhotra, the distributors of the film for India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal, over the last week, organised screenings for cricketers all around the country and have shown it to veterans including Prasanna, GR Vishwanath, Syed Kirmani, Robin Singh, Sivaramakrishnan, Atul Wassan and Anjum Chopra (former captain of the Indian women’s cricket team).

We caught up with the filmmaker who is gearing up for the release of his new documentary on James Bond next month.

His journey with Fire in Babylon started when a producer friend told him about possible funding for a cricket film. “The theme for the film was West Indies cricket. We wondered why there was no film on the rise of the West Indies team. They changed a game that was played leisurely into something exciting and terrifying to watch. So I went to the West Indies and spent five weeks there to talk to the locals and the cricketers for research.”

That was back in 2009. Riley’s film has turned out to be quite emotional and dramatic for a documentary. “I wanted to be creative and push emotions through photographs I had access to and cut it to the music from the West Indies. Putting it all together was quite fun. The idea was to give the audience a taste of the rhythm, spirit and colour of the West Indies side as captured by a West Indian and not an English filmmaker.”

The film goes beyond just cricket and has found a wider appeal around the world. “I was careful not to overburden the film with cricketing jargon and wanted to take the film to a larger audience, including women.”

Fire in Babylon studies the rise of a team that went on to terrorise teams around the world and became world champions through the powerhouse of bowling talent from the islands.

“The history of the game had everything to do with race. The West Indian captain was a white man. So race relations and the emergence of a Black leader for the team played a huge role given the history of the region.”

Riley admits that he enjoys watching soccer and Formula 1 more than watching cricket. “But making this film has certainly made me appreciate the game more.”

The trip to India, the home of cricket today, has given a sense of closure for the film as Riley is now preparing for the twin premieres of his new film Everything or Nothing: The Untold Story of 007 in London and New York in October. “It’s the official history, sort of the Bible story of James Bond,” says Riley.


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