Bombay Showcase

When two cultures collide

Alan Gemmell  

British Council centres in India have long been patronised by people for access to a wide variety of books on subjects such as film, music, art and cultural shows, besides learning English. But times have changed. The youth today has access to information and opportunities for studying, working and travelling not just in the U.K. but several other countries at the click of a button.

Aware of this, the Council recently announced several initiatives which challenge the perception of the U.K. among Indians by showcasing new opportunities for study and work. In fact, recently, Sir Ciaran Devane, chief executive, British Council, who declared 2017 to be the U.K.-India Year of Culture, stressed that the objective was to increase the appreciation of contemporary U.K. in India and vice-versa. This will be achieved through events and projects, both offline and digital.

Implementing this at the ground level will be Alan Gemmell, the new director of British Council India, who talked at length about the U.K.-India Year of Culture, the events planned, his priorities and the challenges involved.

Tell us about the U.K.-India Culture Year 2017.

It is spread over 2016 and 2017. We will start with the digital show Mix The Play , a collaboration with Roysten Abel, noted India theatre director and playwright, which offers the audience the chance to play director of a Shakespeare play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream . The interactive website will be developed with pre-recorded film samples and effects, locations and costume options for visitors to make a short film from a scene in the play. 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.

Is the focus on digital only?

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 in 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 U.K.’s cultural content. We are running a project with The Royal Court Theatre, which has been training and supporting young Indian playwrights and we hope to stage some of their works.

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 U.K. looks like today, in inspiring them by our programmes.

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 about both countries; reconnect the young people of India with U.K. and make people in the U.K. get to see what India is today; and inspire people with our brilliant programming. We can only do that if we do things together. 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. We want to extend our teachers training programme in English language along with the Government from ten States to other regions. Besides, we have programmes like Generation U.K.-India to support young people and professionals from the U.K. to gain experience in India and the Newton Bhabha Fund to undertake scientific research and innovation in the U.K.

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Printable version | Oct 17, 2021 3:33:15 AM |

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