In 1999, Graham Staines, an Australian missionary, along with his two sons, ten year-old Philip and six-year old Timothy, was burnt to death by a mob.
Twenty years after the horrific incident, filmmaker Aneesh Daniel released a film based on it titled The Least of These: The Graham Staines Story, starring Stephen Baldwin as the eponymous character and Sharman Joshi, as Manav Banerjee, a journalist who goes to Odisha to uncover the facts behind rumours that Staines is illegally converting leprosy patients into Christianity.
In a freewheeling chat with News18, Sharman Joshi talked about his character, the impact the film can make and his experience of working with Stephen Baldwin.
"My character was not a real-life character. We have devised this character of a journalist, and through his eyes, this whole story plays out," Sharman said talking about his preparation for the role, adding, "He suggests to his editor that he should go and follow up on this man by the name of Graham Staines, who ‘allegedly’ is converting Hindus into Christianity. The editor gives him a go ahead and he ends up in this village. He is a rookie, he is still to be confirmed in the job, depending on how well he performs in the assignment. He follows Graham Staines and his story."
"I played it as and when the journalist in the story discovers Graham, the characters alongside Graham, he discovers himself. So I went along with the flow of the story. In that sense, I did not have to do much preparation, per se. Also at the end of the film, we haven’t come to any judgment about Graham or what he was doing was right or wrong. Whether he was at all converting people or not, we have not come to that. We have raised the question of intolerance towards any great religion or philosophy, and if that is right or wrong. This story could have happened in America, this story could have happened in Europe, in Russia, where two faiths are pegged against one another. The end result leads to someone’s death. That is our concern. Tolerance towards each other’s religion and philosophy is very important, is what the film wants us to remember."
Even when it has been two decades, social unrest in the name of religion still exists globally.
"It is very unfortunate that it is still relevant and unfortunately I think it will be, even in the near future. But I think efforts such as these will help us to remember the importance of giving dignity to each other, first as human beings and then whatever faith, religion and philosophy you follow. Every faith has its own merits. The eventual role is for everyone to have peace and ultimate happiness.
"Times such as these, where we are under the attack of Covid-19, we realise the importance of how little we need to be happy and smiling. One thing is to chase your dreams, one thing is to be the most successful person in whatever you are doing, one thing is to be really rich. But the one very important thing that we have all realised is when you are locked in your house, all your riches, all your dreams are of no value," said Sharman.
Actor Stephen Baldwin, who has appeared Hollywood films like The Usual Suspects and Fled, was very dedicated in his performance, Sharman said.
"Of course, I have seen some of Stephen’s films, but I was a big fan of Alec Baldwin, his elder brother’s films. I was looking forward to how Stephen would approach his character, his style or method. Each one has his own way of getting into a character. It was interesting that Stephen had requested for an Australian coach, and Graham came from Australia. So the Australian accent was very important. Stephen worked on that. He had a dialogue coach especially from Australia, working on his accent. In that sense, Stephen had more preparation to do than I did. As Graham Staines was a real-life character, there were certain nuances that he tried to pick up from him. I liked the passion and the intelligence with which he approached his character."
Sherry Rigby, Aditi Chengappa, Prakash Belawadi and Manoj Mishra also play important roles in the film.
The film had a limited theatrical release in March 2019, when it released in English. Now, the film is streaming on ShemarooMe Box Office in Hindi.