A neglected aspect of the history of WWI was revealed in a new BBC documentary, The Muslim Tommies, broadcast on 2nd September 2009, which showed the contribution of thousands of Muslim soldiers of the Indian Corps to the British campaign.
In addition to film footage from 1914 – 18 and the analysis of historians, the programme drew on censor’s translations of letters sent home from the front so that the true feelings and experiences of these brave men could be heard. The human cost of the conflict was driven home by using three young actors to reconstruct life and death in the trenches for these Muslim soldiers.
Rafi Raja, an actor of great promise, was delighted to land one of these roles, which was filmed just after he completed his National Diploma in Performing Arts at Bradford College in July 2009.
“I had received a call-back for RADA but then when I didn’t get in this year I decided to improve my acting and performing experience before re-applying. I was thrilled to get this part which was filmed in Manchester in producer/director Rob Cowling’s cellar! It sounds unlikely, but he built a trench down there and with a smoke machine and the moving scenes we were recreating it really felt like you were in the war.
When I was at school and we did about the First World War in history I thought only British troops had been involved so it was very unexpected. I did lots of research before filming and also drew on the experience of talking to veterans who came to a College Remembrance Day performance last year. They had told me how terrible it was when their soldier pals died and that I needed to emphasise the emotional aspects of war. I was one of three actors, all with equal parts, playing an amalgam of all sorts of soldiers quoted in the letters and their tragedies. I had some really good scenes. The one where a son reads a letter home telling of his father’s illness but cannot leave to see him before he dies, and knows he faces death himself really touched me.”
While The Muslim Tommies explored the issues of religion, loyalty and identity from a historical perspective, Rafi’s next project addresses these themes from a contemporary standpoint. “I am starting work with a schools touring company in London in mid September. I will be working on a devised piece based on religion and extremism; how people can be misled and mess up their lives, and how this can be changed for the better. We will be taking the piece around London schools with the prospect of a national tour.
I am also hoping to get together with other former students and put on a play for students here in College and maybe other venues later next year, depending on what opportunities come my way.”
You can see more images from filming here