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

Wolverhampton actor film honors heroes of the Indian World Wars

Wolverhampton actor and writer Neil Ball, left, and director of photography Gurgant Singh

The short film directed by Neil Ball titled “The Forgotten Soldier” is based on true events and tells the story of a Sikh soldier from Punjab who fought in World War II and later settled in Birmingham.

Held at the Center on Fryer Street from Friday to Sunday, the festival aims to showcase the talents of independent storytellers and writers through films.

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

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

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

The Saragarhi Memorial on Wednesdayfield

“It was a proud and historic day for the black country, as this was the UK’s first complete statue of a South Asian soldier in World War I. A day later, the statue bearing the ‘Great War Lions’ banner was vandalized, with the words ‘No Longer There’ written on it. Siboy.” Why? What does this mean?

“I decided to take a deeper look at this and try 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.”

“With the Commonwealth Games arriving in Birmingham this summer, I thought it would be a great time to share this Commonwealth story associated with the Midlands – also a reminder of why the Games started in the first place,” he added.

“My ancestors – soldiers from the Indian subcontinents – made sacrifices that are not always talked about. So in this film I thought I would pay homage to these soldiers through this film.”

Nearly 1.3 million Indian soldiers served in World War I, with more than 74,000 losing their lives.

“Our story centers around Atma Singh, a World War II veteran who settled in the Midlands,” said Mr. Poole.

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

Chancellor Bhupinder Gakhal, who was instrumental in erecting the Saragarhi Monument in Wednesdayfield, which was unveiled last year honoring 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 answered the call of Empire during World War I.

“Personally, I believe this film will elevate the status of all these brave men who gave up their freedom so that we could enjoy our own.

“Many Sikhs joined the Western Front from 1915 on, and the special image that lingers in my memory is seeing Sikh soldiers marching through Belgium toward the front lines and being greeted by locals.

“If my memory serves me correctly, a lady who was the mayor’s wife has been seen laying a flower on a soldier.

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

He added, “I would like to thank everyone involved with this film for their excellent work, as this once again highlights the invaluable contribution that the Sikhs played in both world wars, as well as the earlier heroic stance of Saragarhi.”

Both the statue at Smethwick and the memorial at Weds Field were created by rural black sculptor Luke Perry.

After screening at Lighthouse, Mr. Paul took the film to festivals in Birmingham and London and applied for screenings in Edinburgh, Leeds, Europe, New York and Los Angeles.

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

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

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

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