The Least of These: A Story of Enduring Love

The Least of These: The Graham Staines Story is based on the true story of the murder of Australian Christian missionary Graham Staines and his two young sons in 1999. The film is set in India and is directed by Aneesh Daniel. South African, Bruce Retief, was responsible for the stirring soundtrack.

Decades before his death Graham Staines and his wife Gladys started and ran a leprosy mission in India. They imbued the patients with dignity, defying conventional wisdom that treated lepers as outcasts. In the 1990s religious tensions rose, when, in Hindu areas, accusations of ‘illegal conversions’ were levelled at Christians.

The action in The Least of These starts at this point and centres on journalist Manav Banerjee (Sharman Joshi) who has a wife and a new baby. Banerjee is an ambitious writer with desperate living conditions and he tries to make it big by covering the sensationalist rumours of the aforementioned illegal Christian conversions. Urged on by his editor, Kedar Mishra (Prakash Belawardi), Banerjee searches for evidence linking Staines (Stephen Baldwin) to these accusations. Along the way Banerjee unwittingly speaks inflammatory words to a listening crowd, and influences a serious outcome.

Banerjee’s own journey in the story takes him from scepticism and suspicion, through regret, to realisation and putting things right. The journalist’s journey also acts as a vehicle for highlighting the role of the media in political and religious tensions.

Ultimately, though, The Least of These is a gently told story of relationships, of faithfulness, of genuine, selfless love, and of forgiveness.

Some of the acting in The Least of These is stilted – particularly from Stephen Baldwin and Shari Rigby (who plays Gladys Staines). The focus on a White ‘saviour-type’ missionary in an Indian environment is racially uncomfortable. But the setting in the suburbs of Odisha, India, is authentic and the storyline well-rounded. The Least of These is worthwhile viewing and is currently on at cinemas in South Africa countrywide.

War Films Make You Think

I started and ended my DIFF 2017 viewing with two war documentaries/films.

The first one was Troupes of War – Diturupa. This documentary features the journey of South African journalist Lucas Ledwaba as he examines the experience of black South African soldiers in World War I. A fascinating aspect to the tale is that of the modern-day ‘Diturupa’ festival in which villagers in Makapanstad dress up in Scottish and military regalia. How incongruous it is to see these villagers participating in a seemingly European custom. This peculiarity is further emphasised by an observation in the film that black South Africans participated in WWI to ostensibly free the world of tyrants, only to return to their homeland and not participate in those benefits.

The second war film I saw was Viceroy’s House which was directed by Gurinder Chadha. The movie tells the story of how Lord Mountbatten of England oversaw the independence of India from Great Britain in 1947. Mountbatten was the ‘last viceroy’ in India and his ‘plan’ involved splitting India into India and Pakistan. The split was prefaced and followed by enormous violence and led to a massive migration of people. The film opens with the subtitle ‘history is written by the victors’. Viceroy’s House is an attempt, I think, to tell the real story behind the independence and split and rewrite that history. An absurdity in this film was seeing the servants in Viceroy’s House splitting the contents of the house between ‘India’ and ‘Pakistan’.

Both films challenged my thinking but both had serious flaws. Troupes of War – Diturupa had all the elements of an interesting story but failed to make the connections for the viewer clearly enough. Viceroy’s House, according to The Guardian, http://bit.ly/2nDq8BV, ‘is unlikely to do very well at the box office’ because of the liberties it takes with the facts. ‘Even so,’ the article goes on to say, ‘it will attract a far larger audience than any book on partition, and for many people it will be their only understanding of the subject. As with “fake news”, so with “fake history”. Detecting it needs curiosity – critical rather than passive consumption – otherwise it never gets found out.’

I don’t know. Go and see Viceroy’s House and see what you think. It opens at cinemas in South Africa on 27 July 2017.