A poignant film exploring the contribution of South Asian soldiers in World War I, and the dangers of forgetting the past during present times where division and misunderstanding can lead to violence, is being screened during the Birmingham Film Festival.

The Forgotten Soldier will be screened ahead of Remembrance Day at The Giant Screen in Millennium Point on Monday 7th November. 

Director Neil Paul’s contemporary short film The Forgotten Soldier touches upon the sacrifices made by South Asian soldiers during World War I which have been largely confined to the dusty pages of history.

Speaking to I Am Birmingham, Paul said: This has been a journey. I can’t say how appreciative I am to have my film screened at the Birmingham Film Festival.

“Having a screening where the story is set in the same year as when The Commonwealth Games came to this country, and to Birmingham city itself, is really special.

“To be able to produce and tell an actual Commonwealth story that was set in and about the Midlands, and paying homage to the forgotten soldiers, is a very proud moment.”
The statue honouring Sikh soldiers was vandalised only a week after being unveiled in Smethwick, BirminghamRanjit Dhillon
A statue honouring Sikh soldiers was vandalised only a week after being unveiled in Smethwick in 2018

The Forgotten Soldier removes the veils of prejudice and racism to reveal a timely story, inspired by real events, about the defacing of a World War I monument in Smethwick commemorating the contributions of South Asian soldiers.

The script uses the springboard of the 10-foot high monument being defaced to open up a wider story that touches upon several characters which leads to a tragic climax where the protagonists – and the viewer – are faced with moral dilemmas surrounding hate, justice and the cancerous impact of violent revenge.

The catalyst for the tragedy is an act of violence against an elderly Sikh man who’s come to see ‘The Lions of the Great War’ monument to his fallen brothers in arms. The old man stands in the cold twilight looking up at the colossal stone sculpture of a proud Sikh soldier standing to attention, looking out at a past that has been largely erased or ignored by historians.

The old man looks up and his eyes are lit with memories, and emotions ripple silently over his face as the sky overhead darkens and night prowls around him.

Soon, the insidious darkness of 21st century racism and hatred will attack the old and forgotten soldier.

Director Neil Paul, who also stars in the film, is proud to have his film screened at The Birmingham Film FestivalNeil Paul
Director Neil Paul, who also stars in the film, is proud to have his film screened at The Birmingham Film Festival

The short film is helmed by Wolverhampton director Neil Paul, who also takes a role in the film, and the vision that propels the central theme of the tale is the corrosive effects of ignorance and hatred.

There is an urgency in the drama that makes a compelling point about the importance of remembering the past, and more crucially, remembering the valuable contribution made by soldiers of colour whose tales of valour are all too often airbrushed out of history.

There is a scene in the film where a character makes a poignant and heartfelt point about school kids not being taught about the gallantry of Sikh soldiers, and how it took the passing of 100 years before a Remembrance Day monument was erected, and within days of it being unveiled the statue was defaced.

The director uses the film to highlight the dangers of ignorance and intolerance when historians, and the education system, neglects the vital and positive contributions made by ethnic minorities from South Asia who are marginalised and racially abused in Britain.

The director plans to screen The Forgotten Soldier at various film festivalsAirah Productions
The Forgotten Soldier will be screened at The Giant Screen in Millennium Point

“We must look deeper into the dark to see the light,” says Paul.

“In the story there are a lot of raised questions the characters ask in the climax scene, questions of the scars left by Britain’s imperial past.

“The feeling of trying to belong. Feeling anger at an overlooked past. Dealing with the world from a British Asian viewpoint. We forget the past at our peril.

“I hope my film opens up a much needed and long overdue dialogue. Ignorance and racism have to be addressed to prevent violence and division from poisoning the minds of the next generation of kids.”

The Forgotten Soldier will be screened, with a selection of other short films, at an event at Millennium Point, Curzon Street, Birmingham, B4 7XG.

Free tickets for the screening on Monday 7 November at 8pm can be booked at this link

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