Wolverhampton actor's film pays homage to Indian heroes of world wars

A film written and directed by a Wolverhampton actor is to feature as one of the highlights at the city’s first annual movie festival, being held at the Light House Media Centre this weekend.

Wolverhampton actor and writer Neil Paul, left, and director of photography Gurjant Singh
Wolverhampton actor and writer Neil Paul, left, and director of photography Gurjant Singh

Entitled ‘The Forgotten Soldier’, the short film by Neil Paul was inspired by true events and tells the story of a Sikh soldier from the Punjab who fought in the Second World War and later went on to settle in Birmingham.

The festival, which runs at the centre in Fryer Street from Friday to Sunday, aims to showcase the talents of independent storytellers and writers through film.

Multiple features will be showing between 5pm and 11pm on Friday and from 1pm on Saturday and Sunday, with The Forgotten Soldier screening on Saturday at 8pm. The festival will also include workshops and live chats.

Mr Paul studied drama in Birmingham, London and Mumbai and has appeared in ​Doctors, Liverpool Narcos and a number of documentaries for Sky TV.

He said: “In 2018 a 10ft bronze statue of a Sikh soldier was commissioned and unveiled in Smethwick to remember the South Asian soldiers – known as Sepoys – that fell in the Great War, marking 100 years since the conflict ended.

The Lions of the Great War memorial in Smethwick in 2018

“It was a proud and historic day for the Black Country, as this was the UK’s first full statue of a South Asian First World War soldier. A day later the statue, which had the banner ‘Lions of the Great War’,  was vandalised with the words ‘Sepoy no more’ daubed on it. Why? What did this mean?

“I decided to take a deeper look at this and tried to develop a narrative around it for my story. I didn’t want to write a war movie in the traditional sense. Instead I wanted to take this as a starting point and grow it from there, merging the past with the time we live in now.

“As the Commonwealth Games come to Birmingham this summer, I thought it would be a great time to share this commonwealth story that’s connected to the Midlands – and is also a reminder why the games started in the first place,” he added.

“My ancestors – the soldiers from the Indian sub-continents – made sacrifices that are not always spoken about. So in this movie I thought I’d pay homage to those servicemen through this movie.”

Approximately 1.3 million Indian soldiers served in the First World War, with more than 74,000 losing their lives.

“Our story is centred around Aatma Singh, a war veteran who fought in the Second World War and settled in the Midlands,” said Mr Paul.

“Making the film has been an amazing journey and I’m really proud to be able to finally see it at the cinema in my home city.”

Councillor Bhupinder Gakhal, who was instrumental in the erection of the Saragarhi Monument in Wednesfield, which was unveiled last year and honours the Sikh soldiers who gave their lives at the Battle of Saragarhi in 1897, said: “This film is a fitting tribute to all those soldiers who, during the First World War, answered the call of the Empire.

The Saragarhi Monument in Wednesfield

“I personally think this film is going to raise the profile of all those brave men who gave up their freedom so we could enjoy ours.

“Many Sikhs joined the Western Front from 1915 onwards, and one particular image that has stayed in my memory is of seeing the Sikh soldiers marching through Belgium towards the front lines and being greeted by locals.

“If my memory serves me correctly, one lady who was the wife of the mayor, is seen placing a flower on one of the soldiers.

“As a British Sikh I am immensely proud of my community and the sacrifices we made in both world wars. It’s truly amazing to think that so many young men left their villages to fight a war halfway around the world.

“I would like to thank everyone connected with this film for their excellent work, as this once again highlights the valuable contribution Sikhs played in both world wars, as well as the earlier heroic stand at Saragarhi,” he added.

Both the statue in Smethwick and the memorial in Wednesfield were created by Black Country sculptor Luke Perry.

Following the screening at the Light House, Mr Paul is taking the film to festivals in Birmingham and London and has applied for screenings in Edinburgh, Leeds, Europe, New York and Los Angeles.

“It’s a short film so my aim is to see if I can generate enough interest to find a production company that would like to develop it into a full feature,” he said.

Filmed in and around Wolverhampton and Birmingham, The Forgotten Soldier was shot by Gurjant Singh, also from Wolverhampton, and features Gurdev Singh as Aatma Singh and Mr Paul as Sunny Singh.

For tickets and more details on the festival go to wolverhamptonfilmfestival.com

Top Stories

More from the Express & Star

UK & International News