Film: “The Least of These: The Graham Staines Story”; Director: Aneesh Daniel; Cast: Sharman Joshi, Stephen Baldwin, Shari Rigby, Manoj Mishra, Prakash Belawadi, Aditi Chengappa; Rating: ***
Director Aneesh Daniel’s “The Least of These” is based on a true story that documents the tragic death of an Australian Christian missionary and his sons in Odisha.
Narrated from the local journalist, Manav Banerjee’s point of view, the film gives us an insight of the murder. Initially sceptical about the missionaries’ motive and method of converting people to Christianity, the over-enthused Manav who has written articles about conversion finds a foothold in a local newspaper called New Orissa.
His editor Kedar Mishra puts him on the trail of Graham Staines who had been working among the tribal poor and lepers of the area for the past 35 years. His condition to Manav for a permanent position at the newspaper is “get evidence” that the conversion is forced or induced.
While Manav is struggling to gather proof regarding the conversion, his journey is inter-cut with the personal struggle of his beliefs, an expecting wife along with the birth of his baby and his guilt of the untimely and unwarranted murder.
Working on an one-dimensional screenplay by Andrew Matthews, director Aneesh Daniel creates an atmosphere that’s so rustic and realistic. He does not over-dramatise the event, but the third act does appear fabricated. With a measured pace, the entire tension in the film is unassuming, an innocent setup thus may not be affecting. But the truth is, in the simplicity of the narrative.
On the performance front, every actor is sincere, effortless and well-deserving. Sharman Joshi as Manav Banerjee is believable, so is, Prakash Belawadi as Kedar Mishra, Aditi Chengappa as Manav’s wife Shanti Banerjee, Manoj Mishra as the hoodlum Mahendra, Stephen Baldwin as Graham Staines, Shari Rigby as Graham’s wife Gladys, Isaac, Campbell and Emily Ellis as Graham’s children Timothy, Philip and Esther. Director Aneesh Daniel makes one scene appearance as the House Agent.
Mounted with moderate production values, DOP Jayakrishna Gummadi’s camera work is excellent, with his wide shots he gives us a fair idea of the terrain and the drama that’s unfolding in the locality.
The visuals along with Bruce Retief’s music and background score are astutely and seamlessly layered by Steven H. Bernard’s editing.
Overall, “The Least of These” is a sensitively and subtly handled faith film that might not be entertaining but is definitely worth a watch.
(Troy Ribeiro can be reached at email@example.com)
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