Thursday, June 30, 2011

#150: Fire in Babylon

Towards the end of Fire in Babylon, Michael Holding, The Whispering Death as he was known to his peers, mentions a fact about the West Indies team. For 15 years in world cricket, West Indies was never beaten in a test series. He goes on to add that in no other sport has any other team had such a dominance anywhere in the world. Holding says it matter-of-factly without any overt emotion on his face but you sense the import of those words- they are glistening with pride. Fire in Babylon is the story of how a group of men from different island countries came together to form the Windies cricket team and achieved that unparalleled honor.

Director Stevan Riley, whose previous Blue Blood was a gripping account of the rivalry between Oxford and Cambridge on the sport of boxing, turns back the clock on the 70s when cricket was a gentleman's game but somehow whites around quite a few pockets of the world still had notions of being superior compared their darker hued brethren. After a quick glance at the history of the Windies as a conglomeration of islands, Riley sets the context with the 1975 WI tour of Australia. Parts of the documentary are a throwback to the pages of the brilliant Beyond The Boundary by CLR James- a book that has often been acknowledged as a seminal work in cricketing literature.

The main voices of Fire in Babylon are the cricket players themselves along with a couple of historians and a few die-hard fans from the Carribean. Liberally entwined are actual footage of the test matches that Windies played during the 70s and the 80s dcoumenting the team's ascendancy. The narrative is extremely fluent and sharp and the best part is the section showing the famed Windies quartet or the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse as Colin Croft remembers themseleves being called as. Another indelible section is the parts where Viv talks about the West Indian pride will give you goosebumps. The passion is unmistakeably furious but with a zen-like calm he mentions how Clive Lloyd came upto them after a battering and said, "Never again."

One section where I thought the movie could've improved upon is including what the other cricketing teams / players thought of the juggernaut. That said, it's not as if you miss it during the movie. More of an afterthought. I have seen a few reviews going around saying if you're cricket nut, this is a movie you shouldn't miss out on. For me, that's selling the movie really short for though it's centerpiece is around cricket, Fire in Babylon is a reflection of how a cricketing team made a statement in a world order that either favored or forgave colonialism. This is an account that deserves a watch to understand the significance of what the Windies team accomplished against the odds. It's served on a platter for you and if I were you I would shamelessly and unapologetically ask for a repeat, such is it's impact.

Rating: 8.6/10