Produced by Indian American Victor Abraham’s Skypass Entertainment, the film stars Stephen Baldwin, Shari Rigbey and Bollywood actor Sharman Joshi.
Indian American Victor Abraham is a busy man these days. Currently on a US tour to conduct the screenings of the debut film of his production company Skypass Entertainment, the Dallas resident is upbeat. The Least of These stars 3 Idiots star Sharman Joshi, and American actors Stephen Baldwin and Shari Rigbey. Directed by Aneesh Daniel, the film tells the very sensitive and poignant story of Graham Staines, the Australian Christian missionary, who, along with his two young sons, was torched to death by Hindu fundamentalists in 1999.
Nearly twenty years since the unfortunate incident, which remains one of the most gruesome tragedies to hit a foreigner in India, the movie reaches theaters across the United States on February 1. The film will bring to American audiences the story that shook the collective conscience of everyone who heard about it.
As the executive producer of the movie, Abraham is acutely aware of the responsibility of showing this story to audiences in America, who may not have known about the tragedy. “It was important to tell this story as it has such an impact,” he says in a telephone interview. “One could never underestimate the large heartedness of Gladys Staines (Graham Staines wife, who survived him along with their daughter), who chose to forgive the perpetrators the very next day.” Understanding that the story brings about such a heinous crime that took place in India — a country where Abraham was born and brought up — he says, “The story tells the truth and yes what happened was unjustified. But the story also shows the audiences the good side of India, a side that made the Staines come and make India their home in the first place.”
Krish Dhanam, who has been with Abraham during the entire journey of the movie and acted as the creative liaison, is confident that the movie would intrigue Americans. “To begin with, the thought that an Australian could leave his life and come to live in rural India and dedicate himself to work with lepers is so thought-provoking,” he says.
He adds that the movie, which was shot in India, shows the country in a light that may have never been shown in the West. “While we do show rural India, we make sure that we show things as they actually are,” Dhanam says. “There are no slums shown, just because that’s the popular perception.”
Another big responsibility that Abraham thought he must have is to show a new kind of responsible cinema. Dhanam elaborates: “Both in Hollywood as well as Bollywood, when immorality is shown on screen it is promoted, when promiscuity is shown, it’s being participated in, when alcohol is shown, it is partaken. It’s sad but people are used to seeing profanity. Our idea was to produce a movie that was clean, important and devoid of profanity.”
Post the US release, Abraham has plans for the worldwide release of the movie. The film would be released in India around March and its Australian release is slated for April.
The Indian American, on picking up this story, believes that there must have been a divine intervention. Abraham had met Gladys Staines once in the past when she was touring the United States. When he was on the lookout for a powerful story, he remembered her as an extraordinary human being. “So when this story came to us we had just no second thoughts,” he says.
Abraham met Staines again, this time in Badipada, Odisha, where the Staines family lived and worked with the lepers. “It was the 15th death anniversary of Graham Staines and her two sons and even though a lot of people had been wanting to document their story, it was reassuring that Gladys gave us her consent to tell their story to the world.”
On choosing 3 Idiots actor Joshi, both Abraham and Dhanam agree that there couldn’t have been a better choice. In fact, they both think that The Least of These would turn out to be the break out performance in Joshi’s career.
Stephen Baldwin, brother of Hollywood star Alec Baldwin, plays the role of Graham Staines. Stephen Baldwin, who starred in the Academy-winning The Usual Suspects (1995), is also one of the producers of the movie.) Rigby plays Gladys Staines.
The music for the 112-minute film was scored by the Hungarian Orchestra in Budapest.