India premiere of World War I film "Farewell My Indian Soldier"
H.E. Mr Alexandre Ziegler, Ambassador of France to India, hosts India premiere of "Farewell My Indian Soldier", a World War I film by acclaimed Paris-based Indian filmmaker Vijay Singh
New Delhi, 19 July 2016
Mr Vijay Singh, acclaimed Paris-based Indian filmmaker, scriptwriter and novelist, presented his new film Farewell My Indian Soldier, a docu-fiction on Indian soldiers who came to France and Belgium to fight in the First World War. Following its market screening at the Cannes Film Festival 2016, this film is expected to travel to international film festivals worldwide.
Farewell My Indian Soldier is the first ever film to be dedicated to the 140,000 Indian soldiers and civilian workers who defended France against invasion. Co-produced by Silhouette Films and Rajya Sabha Television, and supported by the Embassy of France in India, this Indo-French film uses rare archive, historical testimonies, 100-year old Indian war songs and 600 insightful letters written home by soldiers to tell the fascinating story of Indian soldiers of whom 10,000 were never to return to their motherland.
H.E. Mr Alexandre Ziegler, Ambassador of France to India, hosted the India premiere of the film on 19th July 2016, at the Embassy of France.
Mr Vijay Singh, accompanied by his talented actress Paloma Coquant, made a presentation of the film, which was followed by a Q and A session.
Farewell My Indian Soldier, titled Mademoiselle France pleure in French, marks perhaps the first attempt to visually depict the experience of colonial troops during WW1 from a non-Eurocentric angle, adopting instead the perspective of an ex-colony.
It brings to the fore what Indian soldiers lived through on the Western Front: the heroic period during which they fought in legendary battles, like those at Ypres and Neuve Chapelle; the casualties and diseases that afflicted them; their experience of the British army and the English hospitals; the tragicomic situations the French and the British faced while feeding the Indian soldiers wedded to their caste and religious beliefs; and the hospitality of the French hostesses, which won the hearts of the Indian soldiers during their convalescence in French barns.
In this film, Vijay Singh recounts the story of the Indian soldiers through the eyes of human affection and love. During their furlough in French barns, some Indian soldiers and French women developed affection for each other, and children were born. These Indo-French children became the victims of a taboo, because of which most people avoided them. This film is inspired by the story of one such child. In this film, a young girl (Paloma Coquant), a descendant of an unknown Indian soldier and his French hostess, journeys across France, Belgium, England and India, and weaves around it the fascinating story of the Indian soldiers in WW1.
Presenting his project, Vijay Singh says: “This is the first time that such a film is being made on this subject. Indeed, it would seem both unbelievable and intriguing how the experience of 140,000 Indian soldiers and civilian workers on the Western Front, part of the 1.4 million soldiers mobilized worldwide, could have escaped the attention of any television in the world. In fact, even in terms of the contemporary WW1 film footage available in the archives, there is very little on Indian soldiers. Again, much fewer Indian troops were awarded for their bravery than their British counterparts.
In many ways, this film is a re-write of this part of the history of the Great War.”
Making a unique effort to capture the experience of the Indian soldiers in its totality, this film has been shot across multiple locations in India, France, Belgium and the UK. Eminent film critic Derek Malcolm lauded it as “an excellent film… a deeply affectionate study.”
For film stills, please visit the website www.farewellmyindiansoldier.com.
Vijay Singh is an Indian film-maker, screenplay-writer and novelist living in Paris.
After studying History at St Stephen’s College, Delhi, and the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, he moved to Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris, for his doctoral work.
He has written extensively for Le Monde, Le Monde Diplomatique, Libération, the Guardian and several other international newspapers.
Over the last two decades, he has written and directed four acclaimed films. Jaya Ganga, his lavishly-reviewed first feature which was showcased at 40 international festivals, ran for 49 weeks in the Paris cinemas, before repeating a similar story in the UK. The Guardian described it as “a mesmerising film..."
His second feature One Dollar Curry was released in India, France and the UK and praised by the international press. Reviewing One Dollar Curry, BBC Movies commented: “Infinitely more subtle than the spate of recent British diaspora pictures, this likably low-key gem effortlessly combines European and Bollywood influences without lapsing into cliché or caricature.”
Vijay Singh is also the writer-director of two documentaries, including Man and Elephant (1990) which has been broadcast on nearly 100 television channels worldwide.
India by Song, his last documentary film, was telecast by France Television and Star Television India in 2010. It also won the best documentary audience award at the River to River Florence Indian Film Festival.
Before stepping into the world of cinema, Vijay Singh had published several books that had won wide critical acclaim: Jaya Ganga, In Search of the River Goddess, La Nuit Poignardée, Whirlpool of Shadows, and The River Goddess. His books have been translated into French and other European languages. Whirlpool of Shadows was listed by Barry Unsworth (Booker 1992) as one of the “Best Books of the UK”.
Vijay Singh is now working on his next feature, The Opium Symphony, which is adapted from his novel Whirlpool of Shadows.
Vijay Singh’s films have been nominated for Best Film awards at several renowned festivals. Man and Elephant was awarded the Grand Prix La Titine 2002 in Switzerland. He is also the recipient of the Leonardo da Vinci Award for screenplay writing and the Prix Villa Médicis hors les murs for foreign literature in 1990.
For more information on him, please visit www.vijaysingh.net.