How Karunamayudu (1978) Became an Evangelistic Tool: Implications for Understanding Evangelicals and Media

In: Exchange
Dwight H. Friesen

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It has not been uncommon in the history of Jesus in film for commercial movies of Jesus’ life to be conscripted for Christian evangelism around the world. Cecil B. DeMille’s The King of Kings (1927), John Krish and Peter Sykes’ Jesus (1979), better known today as The Jesus Film, and Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004) are but three notable examples. Each of those movies, however, was first produced in America for American audiences. In the case of Karunamayudu (1978), a Telugu commercial movie of Jesus’ life, the target audience was South Indian viewers raised on a steady diet of mythological and social films and immersed in a pluralistic religious environment unlike any Western society at the time. In this essay I explain how and why this film, with its unique production history, was co-opted by evangelicals for Christian witness in India.

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