Kolkata, Jan. 14, 2019: Marking 20th year of the gruesome murder of an Australian missionary and his two young sons in Odisha’s sleepy outback wilderness of Manoharpur in Keonjhar district, Skypass Entertainment will release its first film on February 1 in the US.
The 112-minute film will be released in India in March and its Australian release is slated for April.
Narrating the story line, U.S. based director of the film Aneesh Daniel says, “As the social fabric of life in rural India disintegrates in the late 1990s, journalist Manav Banerjee (Bollywood’s Sharman Joshi of 3 Idiots) moves with his pregnant wife to the town of Orissa in hope of a better life and the promise of a lucrative career. When speculation mounts that local Australian missionary Graham Staines (Hollywood’s Stephen Baldwin of The Usual Suspects) is illegally proselytizing leprosy patients, Manav agrees to investigate undercover for the newspaper. What he finds is a series of revelations that are difficult to fathom and even harder to explain, and Manav is forced to make a choice between his own ambition and the truth. In the end, his actions spark a tragic event that is felt around the world.”
The born again Christian actor Baldwin has over 100 movies to his credit.
Actress Shari Rigby (October Baby) plays the role of Graham’s wife Gladys Staines.
The then-President of India K.R. Narayanan, condemned the incident in harshest of words. He said Staines’ murder was “A monumental aberration of time-tested tolerance and harmony. The killings belong to the world’s inventory of black deeds.”
Then Indian Prime Minister, a veteran right wing Hindu BJP leader, Atal Behari Vajpayee condemned the ”ghastly attack” and called for swift action to catch the killers.
Based on a true story and shot on location in Hyderabad, India, “The Least of These,” according to Executive Producer Victor Abraham, “beautifully illustrates the power of love, hope and forgiveness to overcome hate.”
Abraham adds, ”It is the very edict of [Jesus Christ’s] commandment to love your neighbour as you love yourself.”
Director Daniel underscores, “It is the nature of the parable that said ‘what you have done to the least of these, you have done to me also.’ Graham cared for the lepers because he was caring for Christ. Gladys forgave the accused because she was demonstrating that love. Simple yet complex.”
The film’s screenplay is by Andrew E. Matthews while Victor Abraham serves as Executive Producer.
The film features an impressive soundtrack with exclusive songs by well-known artists including Michael W. Smith, Toby Mac and Nicole C. Mullen. The music for the film was scored by the Hungarian Orchestra in Budapest.
MovieGuide review says, “The Least of These” is a riveting movie. The jeopardy is intense. The plot points are powerful. The acting is terrific. The music could become great Christian songs. The movie presents the Gospel as a gospel of love. The film is a must-see portrait of Christian missionary work.”
20 years ago
It was on the fateful night of 22-23 January 1999 that Australian-born Christian missionary Graham Stewart Staines, 58, and his two sons, Phillip, 9, and Timothy, 7, were killed. It is alleged that Vishwa Hindu Parishad members felicitated the killer’s mother with sweets and 25,000 rupees.
The villain of the crime Dara Singh alias Ravindra Kumar Pal son of Mihilal Pal of Quaker, Auraiya district, Uttar Pradesh, born in 1962, a Bajrang Dal (Hindu right youth wing) activist, was condemned to death on 22 September 2003 by the provincial Court of Odisha. The sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment in 2005 by the Odisha High Court, which also acquitted 11 other accused.
Singh has been awarded life imprisonment in two other cases — murder of Fr Arul Doss and a Muslim trader in Mayurbhanj district.
The Parish priest of Anandpur Father Arul Doss, 35, was attacked by 15-20 men led by Dara Singh in Jambani village in the eastern Indian state´s Mayurbhanj district past midnight on 2nd September 1999, seven months after murder of Staines in the same pattern.
In a third murder in the same year, on 26 November 1999, Shaikh Rahman, a Muslim garment merchant was tortured and had his hands severed, before being burned to death at Padiabeda village. The body was then set aflame and incinerated, to prevent his family members from recovering it. In October 2007, the Baripada District and Sessions Court in Mayurbhanj district, convicted Dara Singh of Rahman’s murder and sentenced him to life imprisonment, while acquitting 23 others on grounds of insufficient evidence.
Wife forgives killers
In her affidavit before the Wadhwa Commission, led by Justice D.P. Wadhwa, on the death of her husband and two sons, Gladys Staines stated: “The Lord God is always with me to guide me and help me to try to accomplish the work of Graham, but I sometimes wonder why Graham was killed and also what made his assassins behave in such a brutal manner on the night of 22nd / 23rd January 1999. It is far from my mind to punish the persons who were responsible for the death of my husband Graham and my two children. But it is my desire and hope that they would repent and would be reformed.”
Staines who first came from Australia at age 22 to Odisha to meet his long time pen pal had been working 34 years in Odisha among the tribal poor and lepers since 1965.
Some Hindu groups alleged that Staines had forcibly converted or lured many Hindus into Christianity; Staines’ widow Gladys denied these allegations. She continued to live in India caring for leprosy patients until she returned to Australia in 2004. In 2005 she was awarded the fourth highest civilian honor in India, Padma Shree, in recognition for her work with leprosy patients in Odisha. In 2016, she received the Mother Teresa Memorial International Award for Social Justice.
Meanwhile, another Indian production film entitled “Warpath….Beyond The Life” by film producer Dr. Dilip Wagh presents – Dr Graham Staines life story. The film project took Wagh 15 years, faced much opposition and 3 attempts to complete the film which was finally released in 2017 in Hindi, English, Malayalam and Tamil. Dubbing is on for French and Portuguese language versions of the film.