What makes Sharman recall a 20-year-old incident?

Sharman Joshi

It is often the characters they play which bring about a change in the actors’ lives as well. Actor Sharman Joshi will be seen essaying one such role in his next. The actor, who plays the role of a reporter in ‘The Least of These: The Graham Staines Story’ says that the story is quite tragic. The story of the film revolves around an incident, which dates back to 1999 when an Australian missionary known for his charitable work with lepers in Odisha was burnt alive allegedly by Bajrang Dal fundamentalists. According to locals, it was because they believed he was luring his Hindu patients into Christianity. Along with Stains, his two sons, Philip (10) and Timothy (6), were also charred to death while they were asleep in their station wagon at Manoharpur village on the night of January 23.

Talking about the film in which he is asked to launch an undercover investigation into the missionary’s activities, Sharman says that Staines story is relevant today when tolerance is need of the hour. “What happened was tragic,” adds Sharman, who is sharing the screen with Stephen Baldwin and Shari Rigby.

In 2003, Bajrang Dal activist Dara Singh was convicted of the murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. However, Stains’ widow, Gladys forgave him, hoping he would repent and reform. She continued to live in India, caring for leprosy patients until 2004, when she returned to Australia. The following year, she was awarded the Padma Shri.

Sharman admits that he didn’t have a reference point for his character. “But human emotions are the same all over the world and depicting them on screen is always a challenge. I was very young when the incident took place but I remember I was moved by it and wondered why it happened. While working on the film, the mystery unraveled for me, as it did for my character,” he explains.

The film has been shot in Hyderabad, Odisha and a small valley in Andhra Pradesh. The American- Indian production has been directed by Aneesh Daniel and features Hollywood actors Stephen Baldwin and Shari Rigby. “I hadn’t worked with mainstream American actors apart from Alice Patten in RANG DE BASANTI, before this. It was a delight to work with Stephen and Shari. We were not sure what to expect as actors from both ends, but Stephen and I exchanged notes because it was a different world for him to shoot in India,” admits Sharman.

His next project is also an Indo-American venture. “We’ll shoot the film in Pondicherry,” he shares, adding, “We’ve also bought the rights of this west end production, THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG, and it’s currently showing all over.”