In January 1999, Graham Staines, a 58-year-old Australian Christian missionary, and his two sons, 10-year-old Philip and 6-year-old Timothy, were murdered by a mob in a remote Indian village.
Staines had parked his Jeep station wagon in front of a Christian church in the tiny town of Manoharpur, where he planned to attend a festival the next day. He and his sons were sleeping in the vehicle when about 50 people from the surrounding area armed with axes, machetes and clubs surrounded the vehicle, poured gasoline on it and set it ablaze. They then prevented Staines and his sons from escaping.
The Least of These: The Graham Staines Story
83 Cast: Sharman Joshi, Stephen Baldwin, Shari Rigby, Prakash Belawadi
Director: Aneesh Daniel
Rating: PG-13, for thematic elements/disturbing images
Running time: 1 hour, 52 minutes
A local man with connections to a militant Hindu group was later convicted of inciting the riot, which was part of a pattern of violence against Christian missionaries that had peaked in 1998 when at least 116 incidents of violence against Christians were reported. India was officially a secular society with no official state religion, but Hindu radicals suspected missionaries such as Staines of illegally coercing rural people to convert to Christianity.
They saw conversion as a means of spreading Western hegemony -- Christianity was, in their minds, a gateway drug to imperialism.
But Staines, who is played with impressive gravitas by one-time Bio-Dome star Stephen Baldwin in The Least of These: The Graham Staines Story, was hardly an advance man for capitalism. He had come to India in 1965 and never left the country. He cared for lepers, running a clinic on the outskirts of Baripada (a town of 100,000 people about 250 miles from where he was murdered). There he was beloved, a familiar figure nicknamed Saibo, rolling around on a rickety bicycle.
The Least of These is a watchable faith-based film made by a group from Texas, filmed on location in India under the entirely orthodox direction of Aneesh Daniel. It employs a fictional character -- ambitious journalist Manav Banerjee (Bollywood star Sharman Joshi) -- who is charged with digging up dirt on Staines by unscrupulous newspaper editor Kedar Mishra (Prakash Belawadi). If he can find evidence of Staines' illegally proselytizing, the editor will put him on full time.
Manav is a honorable man, but his position is complicated by the fact he's penniless, with a wife undergoing a difficult pregnancy.
Predictably enough, Manav agrees to go undercover to spy on Staines and discovers his target is an absolute mensch. But not before he inadvertently manages to incite a local leader who believes Staines is the "head of a snake" that "must be cut off."
While there's a certain obviousness to the plotting, and a necessary streamlining of knotty issues into easily digested factoids, for the most part The Least of These does a good job of communicating the selflessness of people like Staines and the genuinely inspiring example of his widow, Gladys (Shari Rigby).
MovieStyle on 02/01/2019
Print Headline: The Least of These: The Graham Staines Story