Actor Sharman Joshi will be making his Hollywood debut in a film based on a subject that resonates with recent incidents such as the Dadri lynching. The upcoming film, called The Journalist, is based on the murder of Australian Christian missionary Graham Staines as well as his sons Philip (aged 10) and Timothy (aged 6). This shocking incident took place in 1999, in a tiny village in Odisha called Manoharpur.
Joshi, known largely for his comic roles, plays the role of an investigative journalist in the film, reported Mumbai Mirror. Graham Staines is being played by Stephen Baldwin, one of the younger brothers of actor Alec Baldwin and known for appearing in films such as The Usual Suspects (1995).
The film, directed by first-timer Aneesh Daniel, otherwise has a largely Indian cast and crew and was shot mostly in Hyderabad. Some portions, said Joshi, were also shot at the actual missionary school run by Staines in Baripada, Odisha.
Calling it "one of the most challenging characters" he has played, Joshi told Mirror about the larger significance of the movie's story. "There is much to learn from the film about the way our society functions, the way we want India to progress and whether it's the right way forward," he was quoted as saying.
On the night of 22 January 1999, Staines and his two sons had been sleeping inside their station wagon when a mob of about 50 surrounded them and set their vehicle alight. The three were burnt alive.
The murder of Staines, a missionary who had been working with the tribal poor and lepers in Odisha since 1965, was said to have been carried out by Hindu hardliners who accused Staines and his wife Gladys of forcibly converting poor and low-caste tribals to Christianity. Moreover, according to one of the accused, Mahendra Hembram, the mob was provoked by the missionaries "corrupting tribal culture" by allegedly feeding the villagers beef and providing the women with bras and sanitary pads.
The incident triggered widespread condemnation. Dara Singh, a Bajrang Dal activist who led the mob, was "treated like a hero" by a few local groups and reportedly hidden by villagers for a year until he was arrested and sentenced to death; however, later, the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. Graham's wife Gladys denied all allegations of 'forced conversions', forgave her husband's and son's murderers, and continued to work with leprosy patients in Odisha before returning to Australia in 2004. A year later, she was awarded the Padma Shree for her efforts.