Putting light on the countless stories, letters and experiences that have been forgotten, Vijay Singh’s film, Farewell My Indian Soldier, pays homage to the lives of several Indian soldiers who came to France and Belgium to fight in World War I. The film will be screened at National Film Archives of India on March 7.
Singh presents a large canvas wherein a fictional character, played by French actress Paloma Coquant, discovers her Indian heritage through her grandmother, and decides to travel to various places to trace the journey of Indian soldiers in WWI. Through the film, the character travels to different parts of India and later to France, Belgium and England and unearths true stories of Indian men, who fought in different regiments. “The film is a documentary but the character is fictional. She invokes strong emotion and empathy. There are 600 letters, written by Indian soldiers to their families that have been published in a book, ‘Indian Voices of the Great War’, by David Omissi in 1999,” explains Singh.
More than a million Indian soldiers served in WWI. Out of these, 74,000 men lost their lives. The film also highlights the approach of the French towards the Indians. Some of the Indian soldiers and French women fell in love, but their children were looked down upon in French society and were considered a taboo.
When asked about the challenges while making the film, Singh laughs and says that it’s like walking on fire, “When I was done shooting, I went to a friend’s house exhausted. I plonked all the reel cans and asked him for a drink. He told me that it has only just begun!” Aside from this, the director also cites that telling such a story comes with a huge responsibility, “I cannot cheat these stories and fictionalise them. I have crafted a deeper and more complicated story. The soldiers have left behind beautiful experiences. This is a story about human affection.”
This is a narrative of Indian history that has indeed taken a new turn. In a time where every single act of dissent gets crushed by referring to sacrifices made by Indian soldiers, Singh admits that he is finding it difficult to release the film, “It is a collective shame because this film sheds light on the sacrifices these soldiers made but it isn’t finding distributors! It has traveled through different festival circuits but finding takers is hard.”
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