The Least Of These Film Review: Inconsistent drama based on real-life tragedy
The Least Of These is a largely sanitised version of the truth and does a great disservice to the lives lost in the throes of a communal crossfire.
The Least Of These
Dir: Aneesh Daniel
Cast: Sharman Joshi, Stephen Baldwin, Shari Rigby
Aneesh Daniel's attempt to relook at real-life events that triggered the grisly murder of Graham Stuart Staines - Australian born evangelist/poor leprosy patients' caregiver, living and working in the remote regions of Orissa - is a rather tame experience.
It's obvious the filmmakers were eager to avoid any confrontations with right-wing fanatics, who had a major role to play in triggering the gruesome killing of Staines (Stephen Baldwin) and his two sons. Don't know how much of a spoiler the censor board played in this regard, but needless to say, this is a largely sanitised version of the truth and does a great disservice to the lives lost in the throes of a communal crossfire. Defanged of the court ordained facts, including the name of the convicted killer (Dara Singh) and his right-wing Hindu fundamentalist political affiliations, this film merely plays around with the 'conversion' issue.
The narrative device employed here is in itself flawed. It's the late 1990's. Journalist Manav Banerjee (Sharman Joshi) moves with his pregnant wife to a small town in Orissa. The editor (Prakash Belawadi) of the New Orissa Daily treats him like a stringer and expects him to coerce stories about forced conversions from the villagers. Manav, who shuns lepers and is clearly biased against Christian groups, would rather do the exposé without being personally involved. But his editor deems it necessary that Manav himself play victim to the conversion hoax to expose the Australian missionary's so-deemed unlawful activity. With his wife delivering prematurely and costs of hospitalisation mounting by the day, Manav is forced to toe the line.
While forgiveness plays an important part in this misrepresented drama, it doesn't have the effect of a great act here. It is depicted so ineffectually that there is little impact on the viewer. The actors are either over-the-top or inconsistent. Joshi overstates his eagerness by repeating phrases like 'I am a journalist' and 'He is a leper'. Scripting by Andrew E Mathews is so slack that his turnaround defies logic. Even Baldwin and Shari Rigby fail to arouse empathy. Technically too, this film is not upto the mark. The direction, editing and cinematography lack distinctive focus. This unaccomplished production doesn't amount to anything!
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