Fire In Babylon - In Brief
One can seldom get it wrong when you have the likes of Vivian Richards, Michael Holding, Gordon Greenidge, Andy Roberts, Joel Garner and Jeffery Dujon among other West Indian greats to give you a first-hand account of how a bunch of boys got together to form one of the greatest cricket teams of all-time.
Fire In Babylon - Verdict
The film Fire in Babylon
had all the prerequisites for a truly memorable documentary. However, somewhere in the middle, the plot is lost and so is the purpose.
Fire In Babylon - Technical
The film revolves around the resurgence of the West Indies cricket team during a period when Blacks were not given equal rights in the society. It shows how the success of the sporting team gave hope to countless other West Indians that they can be world beaters too. The initial bits focus on the erstwhile migration of the present day West Indians from Africa during the colonial period. It talks about how the blacks were relegated to the position of being slaves in a country ruled by the Whites. Even after the Caribbean islands regained independence, the position of any inhabitant in the society was heavily dependent on the colour of his/her skin. Even cricket was considered to be a sport dominated by the Whites. The captain of the West Indies cricket team was a white and so were most of the officials of the cricket board. At the same time, the neighbouring United States of America was undergoing a process of change under the leadership of Martin Luther King Jr., and the sentiment passed on to the Caribbean islands as well. The blacks, who were facing oppression of unimaginable magnitudes, needed a spurt of inspiration from somewhere.
Cricket, a sport which was interred within the soul of the Caribbean, united all the islands which were so different in all the other aspects, be it language, clothing or culture. The West Indian team of the 60s, although embellished with all-time greats such as Gary Sobers, Everton Weekes and Learie Constantine, lacked the winning spirit. The players used to consider cricket a fun activity and never took winning seriously. However, during the early 70s, a young team led by Clive Lloyd realized the perils of not being tough enough when they received a drubbing at the hands of the Australian team. The two bowling machines, namely Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson, wreaked havoc over the visiting West Indian side. They abused, injured and annihilated the visiting side and pushed them to a corner. Clive Lloyd, being an astute thinker and a true leader, did not get bogged down by the defeat. He understood the significance of genuine fast bowling and so, got greats such as Holding, Roberts and Croft to form a world-class pace attack. From then on, the West Indies were unstoppable. They started with the Indian series and from then on went on to win one tournament after another. Issues that have been interspersed within the sporting exploits have been about how the triumphs of the cricket team had a positive impact upon people back home and other Caribbean migrants who were living in other countries. The cricket team's domination was instrumental in instilling a feeling of pride in the hearts of the West Indian people.
There are various instances brought to light in this documentary - apartheid in South Africa, meagre payment to the players, World Series organized by Kerry Packer etc. Each of them is conveyed through the journey of this great West Indian side. Stars such as Vivian Richards, Michael Holding, Gordon Greenidge, Colin Croft and Andy Roberts steal the show with their impeccable articulating skills. They truly exhibit the emotions that the members of the great side must have been through during this wonderful phase of 15 years when the West Indian side did not lose a single series. There are few songs thrown in the documentary as well. Initially, the reggae add a lot of flavour to the on-screen proceedings but it got tedious as the lyrical tributes keep getting longer.
There has been wonderful use of archives in the documentary. It must have been quite a tough ask to assemble all the footage for this film, many of which dates back to colonial times. The bowling actions of the pace bowlers, shown in slow motion, look beautiful on the big screen. However, this particular visual of a fast bowler running in swiftly towards the bowling mark and delivering a thunderbolt is repeated often in the film. This, in my opinion, was unnecessary.
Also, there is one particular sequence in the film which talks about how the Indian team was so anguished by the injury-inflicting bouncers of the West Indian pacers that they refused to play and declared the innings prematurely. This instance was accompanied with visuals from 'India v/s Australia' series of 1981 during the Melbourne test match when the Indian captain Sunil Gavaskar
walked off the field after being abused by Dennis Lillee. The advertising boards (which had 'Benson and Hedges' written on them) clearly suggest that series in question was in Australia and it has been inaccurately shown as a visual in an India-West Indies series. A documentary has to be accurate. If you don't have the visuals, do not carry the story. It was indeed misleading to see a fuming Gavaskar shown to be protesting against West Indies when that was clearly not the case. This minor but significant mistake took a lot of credibility off the film.
Anyway, the director Stevan Riley should be lauded for incorporating such a brilliant concept. The execution left a lot to be desired though. The film seems to be driving home the same point time and again throughout the duration. The message of the 'blacks being given equal rights' in the society is driven innumerable times. While it was important to bring home the point of racism, it should have been either at the end or too far in between. In the end, the film neither ended up being a good cricket documentary nor a great cultural one. Barring the Gavaskar goof-up, most of the footage is quite accurate. The archives bring about most guffaws and cheering from the audiences. The film gives you a good idea about the history of the West Indies cricket team along with interesting information about the country itself. However, the emotion got lost somewhere in the middle. So much so, that even Bob Marley, whose footage features towards the closing stages of the film, fails to enliven the interest of the viewer.
Fire In Babylon - Final Word
The documentary does not impress you either as a cricket lover or a film buff. There's too much inconsistency in the screenplay. You may be enlightened by this film, but you won't be moved. There's a lot of nostalgia in there, with all the West Indian cricketers coming together but you will have to bear a lot of other inconsequential stuff, if you watch this film strictly for the cricket. To use a cricketing jargon, Fire In Babylon is a case of 'touch and go!'