A short video challenge is steadily building a following

The Public Diplomacy Division of the Ministry of External Affairs is tapping the ever-buzzing world of online social networks for improving the image of the nation worldwide.

Its ongoing short video challenge, ‘India is,' has received more than 50 entries from across the world since October 1. The competition's official page on Facebook has a following of more than 20,000 users, and Twitter is abuzz with mentions.

“One of our key objectives is to engage with diverse audiences around the world,” Navdeep Suri, Joint Secretary and head of the Division, said in an email interview with The Hindu. “Social media is emerging as one of the key instruments that helps us in achieving this objective.”

The video challenge that calls for users to submit entries running to a maximum of three minutes on one of the three themes — ‘India is colourful,' ‘India is creative' and ‘India is wherever you are' — has received interesting user-generating content not just from India but also from video enthusiasts abroad, including the U.S. and even a college student from Romania.

The idea is similar to the hugely successful ‘Democracy is' campaign the United States government's Bureau of International Information Programs ran in association with YouTube in 2008. More than 6,000 people from 132 countries had participated.

The competition has already received diverse entries. Some look very professional, while a few others, despite looking amateurish, score in terms of content.

One of the neater looking videos is ‘The Beach,' made by 24-year-old Atmika Didawania from Mumbai. A film school graduate from the University of South California, she shot the video on the Chowpatty beach using a DSLR camera and edited it within a day. “The concept of the competition sounded very innovative. What immediately struck me was to show the colours and the chaos of the beach, which is very unique to our country,” she said in a telephone interview.

A more surprising entry is from a Romanian student Varga Hilda Hedwig, who narrates in near chaste Hindi what she finds captivating about the Indian culture. The competition has so far drawn entries from eight countries.

The Ministry's Facebook account has close to 20,000 fans, says Mr. Suri. The demographics of the Facebook fans makes for interesting reading: persons from South Asian countries, Indonesia and Egypt are some of the largest groupings. And nearly 52 per cent of them are in the 18-24 age group. “We are trying to deploy Facebook to engage with the younger generation and build a community of ‘Friends of India' who are interested in diverse facets of Indian culture and, perhaps, in Indian foreign policy too,” he adds.

The official Twitter account of the Ministry (www.twitter.com/indiandiplomacy) has 19,000 followers.

(The last date for entries is December 31. To learn more about the contest, visit www.indiais.org.)