Mix and match

As the British Council unveils a series of initiatives to showcase contemporary UK culture in the country, Alan Gemmell, the new director, talks about things to do

June 15, 2016 11:16 pm | Updated October 18, 2016 12:39 pm IST

Alan Gemmell.

Alan Gemmell.

British Council centres across the 10 Indian cities have long been patronised by people for enjoying a wide variety of books on different subjects, films, music, art and cultural shows besides learning English. Many still feel nostalgic about the carefree hours they spent there during their young days . But the times have changed. The youth today has access to information and opportunities for studying, working and travelling not just in United Kingdom but several other countries at the click of a button. Aware of these, the Council recently announced several initiatives which challenge the outdated perception of the UK among Indians by showcasing the new opportunities it offers to study and work besides its contemporary arts and culture. In fact, recently Sir Ciaran Devane, Chief Executive, British Council who declared 2017 to be the UK-India Year of Culture stressed that the objective was to increase appreciation of contemporary UK in India and vice versa. This will be achieved through events and projects –– offline and digital –– to reach out to newer audiences beyond the metropolitan cities.

Implementing this at the ground level will be Alan Gemmell, the new Director of British Council India who in an interaction talked at length about the UK-India Year of Culture, the events planned, his priorities and the challenges involved.


Tell us about the UK-India Culture Year 2017.

It is spread over the 2016 and 2017. We will start with the digital show Mix The Play, a collaboration with Roysten Abel, the noted India theatre director and playwright, which offers audience the chance to play director of one of Shakespeare plays “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. The interactive website will be developed with pre-recorded film samples and effects, locations, costume options with visitors invited to make a short film from a scene in the play. It allows them a range of elements to control like a selection or all of casting, setting, direction of the actors, background music etc.

In January, we launch Mix The City wherein Sonya Majumdar will collaborate with musicians who are connected to Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata to create a story of their city. This will be uploaded on YouTube allowing visitors to remix it to make their own version and share with friends. We have done this in Israel, Turkey and Russia and it has been very successful there.

Is the focus on digital only?

See the digital is big and so are the numbers involved in it but we will be doing many offline events too. We have Face To Face, a cultural activity wherein we intend to present British artists, including popular musicians and bands in different festivals in India like NH7. We will rope bands popular on our radio show Selector to perform here.

In our centres we will invite British writers and playwrights giving an opportunity to people and library members to experience the UK’s cultural content. We are running a project with the Royal Court which has been training and supporting young Indian playwrights to create new plays and we hope to stage some of their works.

How is India perceived in the UK?

People in the UK realise that India is an incredible democracy and economy and as you watch Prime Minister Narendra Modi go around the world, meeting the world leaders it abundantly clears the great successes of this country and that is what we want to be able to share in our story. On June 21, we will be celebrating International Yoga Day which projects a vision of India.

What are the challenges that you envisage?

Today, our challenge is that there are lots of competing interests young Indians are focused on. These include brilliant musical and cultural opportunities in India and opportunities to study and work in other countries. The task is to make Indians excited by what UK looks today, in inspiring them by our programmes and making them feel that we are able to represent and reflect their story of India and the story they would like Britain and India to tell together.

How do you intend to overcome the cultural sensitivities on both sides?

We want to do three things –– celebrate, reconnect and inspire. Celebrate the great things of both the countries; reconnect the young people of India with the UK and make people in the UK get to see what India is today; and inspire people with our brilliant programming. We can only do that if we do things together. Just doing it one way and broadcasting turns people off. I have chosen those words –– celebrate, reconnect and inspire –– because it is all about being sensitive.

We have called for digital cultural ideas for online projects in which we will invest to create new products and things. We want to extend our teachers training programme in English language along with the Government from 10 States to other regions.

Besides we have programmes like “Generation UK-India” to support young people and professionals from the UK to gain experience in India and the “Newton Bhabha Fund” to undertake scientific research and innovation in the UK.

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