Christina Srinivasan changed faiths, left a film career and found a home in Christianity
Born into an upper-class family. Early fame. A suitable marriage. A surprise conversion. Near divorce. A move to the U.S. And healing.
This could be a plotline out of a movie starring former Indian film actress Christina Srinivasan. But instead it’s her life story, with Christ entering mid-plot.
Born Mahalakshmi Srinivasan in Chennai, India, to a Hindu Brahmin family, she had a comfortable upbringing. Brahmins are traditionally teachers and priests and among the highest caste in Indian society, and the Srinivasan family was a prominent one.
Srinivasan took the stage name “Mohini” during her film career. Photo: Courtesy Christina Srinivasan
Srinivasan started acting at the age of 13 on her father’s prompting, taking the stage name Mohini. She appeared in 100 films, mostly in the South Indian film industry, and became well known as an actress.
Srinivasan married her husband, Bharath, in 1999, and they had a son, Aniruddh, now 17, soon afterward. She continued to act, and all seemed well with her life on the surface.
The family moved for a few years to Washington, D.C., for Bharath’s work. But the couple’s marriage began to struggle. Srinivasan had health issues, depression and trouble adjusting to being away from India. She ascribes it to black magic with which a relative of Bharath’s cursed her.
“There are many ways of inflicting evil in today’s world,” she said. “There are different mediums that the devil is using.”
The couple decided to move back to India but continued to struggle with their marriage.
Srinivasan was searching for something. She read more about her own Hindu faith and about Sikhism, Jainism, Buddhism and Islam. After picking up a Bible, she began exploring Christianity, going to various denominational churches.
“Something was missing in all of these places,” she said.
Eventually she visited Catholic churches.
“They never tried to market Jesus and the church,” Srinivasan recalls of the Catholic Church. “They never said, ‘We are the true church,’ like a slogan.”
Christina Srinivasan at home. Photo: Stephen Brashear
From Hinduism to Catholicism
In 2006, two months after starting to attend Mass and in between shooting movies, she went on a retreat weekend at the Divine Retreat Center in Kerala, a charismatic retreat facility run by the Vincentian Congregation of India.
The first night of the retreat, a religious sister gave a talk, and “the way this nun explained about the body and blood of Jesus, I was just completely floored,” Srinivasan recounted. “And I said, ‘OK, Lord, I’m not going home without you.’”
The next morning she asked the retreat center’s priest to be baptized. The priest checked with the basilica’s rector where Srinivasan had been going to Mass and interviewed her further before agreeing. She received the sacraments of initiation and took the baptismal name Christina.
Her husband, Bharath, was fine with her conversion. In fact he was relieved, she joked, that he would no longer have his Hindu practices policed by his wife, since Srinivasan had been a stickler for Hindu rituals and traditions.
“He said as a Hindu I was like a math teacher,” she chuckled.
Bharath’s parents had a more difficult time with her change in faith. As the eldest daughter-in-law, they thought she should be setting an example for the rest of the family. Both Bharath’s and Srinivasan’s families could trace their Hindu roots back almost to the founding of Hinduism.
“Given the larger Hindu culture and religion that is so prevalent in India, her acceptance of Christianity and Catholicism meant that she was really embracing a huge risk — dangers even — in her conversion,” said Father Kevin Duggan, pastor of Mary, Queen of Peace Parish in Sammamish, where Srinivasan is now a parishioner.
But Srinivasan found that she could talk for hours to anybody who asked about her conversion. She wore her crucifix and rosary prominently.
“I think it’s important to share Jesus with everybody. Because you can’t be selfish about it,” she said. “So I think Jesus needs to be spoken about more, not only for your own good, not to prove a point, but to bring healing into others’ lives.”
Srinivasan’s husband, Bharath Krishnaswamy, received the sacraments of initiation at the Easter Vigil this year. Photo: Stephen Brashear
Saving her marriage
While she was connecting with her new Christian faith, Srinivasan and her husband continued to struggle in their marriage and had filed for divorce although still living together.
Around that same time a priest reminded her, if “Jesus said ‘I am the way,’ how can you say no” to trying to save a marriage?
One day while at Mass, Srinivasan was praying and heard God asking her to surrender her marriage to him. She told Bharath she no longer wanted a divorce.
For weeks she would go every day to morning Mass and evening adoration. Finally, Bharath ended up deciding not to sign their divorce decree, and the couple reconciled.
Not long after reconciling, the couple had a second son, Adhu, now 6, and moved again to the U.S. for Bharath’s work, this time to Arkansas. After a few years, Bharath got a job in the Seattle area. They’ve now lived in Sammamish for four years.
Bharath says that his wife’s Catholic faith has changed her. “She’s become definitely more forgiving, less of holding grudges and [better at] letting go of things and being more about looking at the larger picture.”
It’s also changed their family, he said. “Overall it has brought a lot of refinement to our lives and a lot of fruition.”
So much so that during this year’s Easter Vigil at Mary, Queen of Peace, Bharath became Catholic. The couple’s two sons were already Catholic.
Bharath said he’d long had a strong affinity to Christianity, but seeing his wife’s conversion, and how it changed her, gradually convinced him to become Catholic.
At her parish, Srinivasan participates with the Devotional Prayer Committee, the Rosary Making ministry and an informal healing prayer group, the latter of which she hopes can become an official parish ministry.
“You are amazed to know that so many people need prayers,” she said. “Every time, I come out of a prayer session amazed at this awesome God.”
Besides her parish involvement, Srinivasan is on a training team for the School of Healing Prayer through the Western Washington Catholic Charismatic Renewal. She has felt a connection with the charismatic movement since the retreat weekend when she became Catholic.
“Everybody is a charismatic,” she said. “If you believe that God has given you a gift beginning with your baptism, which is a gift, then you’re a charismatic.”
Srinivasan is also doing an online Catholic deliverance training program through the Oblates of St. Michael. She records a podcast for Radio Angelos, an online Catholic radio station based in India. And she is slowly writing a book about her conversion story.
“What drives me to do all these things for the Lord is that I’m still amazed about it,” she said. “I mean, I’m not even tempted to go back to my movie industry. The Lord can really sweep you off your feet every day.”
Friend and fellow parishioner Lorna Coltorti is in the parish healing prayer group with Srinivasan and got involved in WWCCR because of her.
“The light of Christ really shines through her,” she said. “Everything that she does, she takes into consideration what Jesus would do.”
“The more I learn about Catholicism, the more I learn about the Lord, the more I’m amazed and the more I want to help others,” Srinivasan said. “Because all of us are called to heal each other, all of us are called to help each other in this truly awesome God.”
She often wonders why Catholics aren’t as overt about evangelization here in the West.
“There are definitely patches of fire here and there, but I would love to see it as a forest fire. And if I can throw in a few twigs for it, I’m more than willing.”
Just as you would notice someone dressed to the nines, she said, “in the same way we have a God who is within us, who is all around us, who is very noticeable.”
“So if somebody is going to notice you for what you are, it is because Jesus is in you,” she said. “Catholics are bound to influence people.”
This story originally ran in Northwest Catholic's June 2017 print edition under the title "From Hinduism to Catholicism."