Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Behind the Fire in Babylon - An interview with Stevan Riley

We are a country that is known to be mad over films and crazy about cricket. No wonder Lagaan was such a big hit with us. But more than a decade later, Stevan Riley's Fire in Babylon – a documentary on the West Indies' Cricket team of the seventies is causing a ripple among the audience. The first question on everyone's minds – why the name Babylon? 

To that, Riley says, “Babylon is a Rastafarian term. It was the lifestyle - a sort of a religion that Bob Marley followed. Babylon, to them, is a place that symbolizes prejudice and oppression. The fire, hence, is a representation of the quest for the right and the fight against the wrong.” This makes the film more than just a cricket film, or a sports documentary. This is what makes it a great story of the triumph of the under dog.

Riley, having grown up in England in the 1980s, was captivated by the West Indies' performance in the 1984 'Blackwash' series. It was a time of tremendous racial prejudice in Britain and what that team did made a statement that they are equal on all levels. “That is what inspired me to agree to make this film. If it was any other team, I might have not made it. Because although this was a film about a cricket team, it goes beyond the sport.” he says. 

After compiling the interviews and the stock footage within a year, the film was added the extra dimension with the music. Riley adds, “It was the Caribbean. I was spoilt for choice with music. Bob Marley was necessary and the rich folk tradition in these islands also provided a lot of material. It adds a Calypso flavour to the film.” The local folk artists singing songs in praise of the game and in the glory of the legends of their favourite game give the film a rhythm.

Fire in Babylon is one of the very few nonfictional films to be released theatrically in India but Riley is confident of its success. “It's a great story of an underdog's victory. It is about a cricket team from a colonial country that rises against the oppression of its colonizer. I think the Indian audience will relate to this. Atleast I hope they do.” he says. But the fact that Indian audience is relatively new to the genre of documentaries, being an advocate of non-fictional story telling, is a cause of concern for Riley. 

He urges the Indian audience to change their perspective and says, “It's a shame really if Indians are not that much into documentaries. There is so much rich life to catalogue here. The perception that documentaries are just a factual record needs to change. It's a form of story telling and people need to see it that way.” He also comments that it is a vicious circle and adds, “It is a financial thing. If a documentary is a hit, the distributors start to trust the makers, and once the platform is available, the audience gets created.”

Riley was in India for a week and had plans to spend some time in Himalayas before going back for the premiere of his upcoming documentary Everything or Nothing: The Untold Story of 007 which releases in the UK in the first week of October.

Unedited Version

Published in DNA After Hrs (Pune) on September 25, 2012

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