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When they were kings
TOI-Crest speaks to the filmmaker behind an acclaimed documentary on Clive Lloyd's all-conquering West Indian team of the 1970s and 80s.
Clive Lloyd was the bespectacled captain of the world-conquering West Indian cricket team between 1974 and 1985. Vivian Richards was the gum-chewing batting wizard whose swagger and prowess with the willow struck fear into bowlers' hearts worldwide. Fast bowler Michael Holding ran up to the popping crease so stealthily that the umpire couldn't hear him come in, earning him the nickname 'Whispering Death'. Joel Garner, another demolition man with the ball whose height and physique resulted in his nickname 'Big Bird', Andy Roberts, Colin Croft, Desmond Haynes, Greenidge...any reminder of these names can resurrect uncomfortable memories in the minds of those who played against them. And fond memories in the minds of those who watched them play.
London-based documentary filmmaker Stevan Riley's hugely acclaimed film Fire in Babylon tells the story of cricketing dominance from a West Indian perspective. Accompanied by the music of legends like Bob Marley and the Wailers and Horace Andy, it shows the symbolic significance of the West Indies' almost twenty-year reign at the top: that is, how the bat and ball could combat racial injustice more effectively than violent unrest could.
As Riley waits for the reaction of Indian viewers, he gives some insight into his style of documentary filmmaking. "I don't use the documentary film as a medium to lecture the viewers. On the contrary, I believe in giving them a complete cinematic experience which has various moods, situations and drama. When I make a documentary, I need to justify why the film needs to go beyond the television and get shown on the big screen. For me, such a film is a creative experience". He pauses a bit before adding, "I don't deliver facts. I deliver emotions".
The usage of the word Babylon has intrigued many. Riley explains, "Babylon has a Rastafarian sense, it has a rebellious sense. Many characters in the film inhabit a Rastafarian world, for instance, a man who uses cannabis, has dreadlocks and follows that mode of living. This person happened to be the schoolteacher of Viv Richards. Besides, the talented generation can be seen as an example of releasing black people from mental slavery. Babylon was the perfect symbol for me. "
The cricketers might have unleashed their fury on the field, but off it, they may not have been comfortable in front of the camera. Garner, for instance, is known to be a reserved and shy person: his physical size notwithstanding. Riley smiles, "It can be tricky, but all the cricketers gave me enough time. Also, I had to make sure that they were at ease in front of the camera, or in fact, forgot that there was a camera in the first place. However, since the cricketers gave me enough time, what I eventually got was many honest experiences. They spoke about things they had never discussed before. " Shooting with such giants must have been an illuminating experience. "Yeah", says Riley, "When I met them, I realised that each one of them is a considerate and mild-mannered individual. That they had been such great players hadn't turned them into pompous human beings. "
Many believe that the West Indies team under Lloyd is the greatest team ever to have played the game. Riley certainly agrees. "The world hasn't seen a greater team. Their legacy changed the way in which cricket was played, " he says, adding, "Pace bowling is what wins matches. That West Indies had so many great fast bowlers at the same time was a historical accident. That is why they ruled the world. It has never happened before or after. "
Did these geniuses get what they deserved after they retired from the game? "I was surprised when I spoke to greats like Lloyd and Andy Roberts. They shared a certain degree of remorse that they didn't get proper recognition. That's sad because no team in any sport has remained unbeaten for so many years. "
Riley is a man on the move. His next film, which will be released very soon, is titled Everything or Nothing. The choice of subject takes one by surprise, "It is a film on James Bond. It is a survival story of the legendary spy. It starts from when the Bond saga began, and deals with the spy's ability to stand the test of changing times. " As long as James Bond and Clive Lloyd star in documentaries, they're bound to attract viewers worldwide.
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