Riley spoke to MiD DAY on how he interacted with some of the greatest names in West Indies cricket during his trips to the Caribbean for the film’s shooting.
India is a cricket-crazy nation, but it is also crazy about Bollywood. Do you think Fire in Babylon will be a super hit?
I hope so. These things are difficult to predict. There is a lot in there for the Indian audience to be interested in.
Who was the first cricketer you contacted for the film?
Michael Holding. I went to the Caribbean initially to get a feel of the islands. I met Holding in Kingston. I introduced myself and we spent the afternoon at Sabina Park with a game on. He was great, very helpful. He gave me the right kind of direction and set the ball rolling.
How did your first meeting with Sir Vivian Richards go?
It was a little intimidating because of his reputation and the awe around him. He was approachable, but he’s a man of few words in some respects. I really felt he understood the passion for cricket very, very well. He was incredibly patient during the shoot. We interviewed him in a hotel room at Antigua in the mid-day Caribbean heat and there were lights glaring in his face. Yet, he sat for three hours and spent sometime with us the following day as well. That was extraordinary.
Which player gave you the biggest run around?
It’s funny. Desmond Haynes was initially sceptical. But once he was on board, he was fine.
If the credits at the end of the film were not in alphabetical order, which name would be first on that list?
I am equally grateful to all the players. All of them spoke eloquently. Colin Croft’s story is an interesting one. He was alienated after he went on the rebel tour to South Africa and like all the other players, he was persona non grata. Colin was very vocal and interesting. When it comes to the heart of the story, it was Clive Lloyd and all his achievements as captain.
You did well to get the footage of Tony Greig saying he wanted to make the West Indies ‘grovel’ (a comment which hurt the West Indies team before the 1976 Test series in England). Did you try getting Greig in front of your camera?
I wanted to get some English and Australian players (to talk in the film) but it became quite complicated. It became too difficult to tell two sides of history in 90 minutes.
There is no mention of West Indies losing the 1983 World Cup final to India…
I was aware of that (loss). But the focus of the film was Test cricket.
Last year, I happened to meet former West Indies fast bowler Winston Davis, who is now paralysed and he asked, ‘why Fire in Babylon and not Fire in Barbados?’
(Laughs). Not all fast bowlers came from Barbados. Garner, Marshall came from there, but Andy Roberts is an Antiguan and Croft is Guyanese while Holding is from Jamaica.