Monty Python was condemned for irreverence, Mel Gibson was castigated for violence and Martin Scorsese got into trouble over the sex scenes. But the pitfalls of portraying Jesus have not deterred Bollywood from an ambitious and expensive project to recreate the life of Christ in its own unique way.
A $30m (£20m) production involving an all-Indian cast of mainly children will begin shooting on location in the Holy Land in October and is scheduled for release next year. As yet untitled and unscripted, the film will cover Jesus’s life from birth to crucifixion. Its star, alongside the amateur child actors, will be Pawan Kalyan, introduced at a press conference in Jerusalem today as a “darling to millions”. The producers have spent recent days touring sites in Jerusalem and around the Sea of Galilee, and have approached the Palestinian Authority about filming in Jericho and Bethlehem. “We are enriched, enthralled and thrilled,” said director Singeetham Srinivasa Rao. “We are getting the necessary inspiration.” The film would include seven devotional songs, he added, but would not feature the rumbustious music and dancing characteristic of Bollywood.
The 195-minute film, which will have versions in four languages including English, is one of the highest budget films to be made by an Indian production company. Most Bollywood films are made for around $500,000. Rao said he hoped the film’s central message would be heard by Israelis and Palestinians: “Wherever there is conflict, pain, war, we would like to take the message of peace and love.”
Palestinian officials had been “kind, enthusiastic and co-operative”, Kalyan said. “Israel was always known to us as a conflict area but after being here we realise it’s like any other country. The communities are able to co-exist despite all the problems.”
There would a “great audience” in the sub-continent for the film, he said. “There is great religious tolerance in India.”
India’s Christian community is about 24 million, or 2.3% of the population – Guardian