Two decades after Graham Stuart Staines, an Australian missionary working among lepers in Odisha, and his two minor sons, Philip (10) and Timothy (6), were burnt to death at Manoharpur village in Keonjhar district, their tragic story will hit cinema screens across India on Friday.
The tragedy on the night of January 22, 1999, had triggered worldwide concern and condemnation that shook the then Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.
The father and two sons were sleeping inside a station wagon on a wintry night when a group of people, owing allegiance to a fundamentalist organisation swooped down on them setting the vehicle alight.
The tragedy even caused the then Prime Minister to call for a national debate on conversion, indicating that the gruesome incident could have been a fallout of such allegations against the missionary.
But the 58-year-old missionary’s wife, Gladys Staines, grabbed eyeballs across the nation when she said though she knew nothing about the perpetrators of the crime, she had forgiven them.
The Least of These: The Graham Staines Story stars Stephen Baldwin as Graham Staines, Shari Rigby as his wife Gladys and Prakash Belawadi as a newspaper editor. Sharman Joshi, of 3 Idiots fame, plays the role of a journalist in the film.
Baldwin is known for his roles in The Usual Suspects (1995) and The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas (2000).
The film, co-written by Aneesh Daniel and Andrew Mathews, recounts the facts of the case but introduces a fictional element through Joshi’s investigative journalism. “We struggled a lot on the character of Graham, because we did not find any conflict in his life,” Daniel, who directed the film, said.
“He was a man who was very loved in that part of Odisha and very respected. We decided to look at the film from a journalist’s point of view. From a fictional character’s point of view, we reveal the truth,” he said.
“This film is nowhere connected to faith or preaching. There is a thin layer of faith because it is the story of a missionary. As a filmmaker, I have never struggled (with the dilemma) that faith is overpowering my storytelling,” Daniel said.
“More than anything else, the audience will decide. We are not looking at it as a faith-based film but as one that will touch hearts at a secular level,” he said.