British Council announces new projects in East India

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Kolkata: Alan Gemmell OBE, Director, British Council India announced a series of interesting new projects that the council will be working on in the next couple of years. Speaking on his ambitions for the Council in East India, the new Country Director launched the 2017 UK-India Year of Culture campaign in Kolkata today. He emphasised the need to promote cultural exchange and to create educational opportunities for stronger ties between India and the UK. As part of the cultural initiatives, British Council also announced a call for proposals to undertake research into skills within the cultural sector in India across four cities: Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai and Bangalore. While in Kolkata, Alan met with academics, artists, authors, creative and social entrepreneurs to talk about the potential of the Year of Culture 2017. 

Speaking at the event, Alan Gemmell OBE, Director, British Council India, said, “I am thrilled to be in East India and learn about the brilliant cultural ties that exist between the East India and UK. Also, the great work we do here and the opportunities for our work in the East and North East.” He also spoke on the Shakespearean roadshow which will tour to festivals in seven cities including Kolkata with a range of exciting content. Alongside this will be the Globe Theatre's Complete Walk, an immersive, multi-screen experience with 37 shorts of Shakespeare's 37 lays being shown at festivals and public spaces in the city. The films have been screened along the iconic 2.5 mile stretch between Westminster Bridge and Tower Bridge. Each film explores one of Shakespeare's plays and includes scenes shot in the locations Shakespeare imagined when e wrote them. Picture Cleopatra in front of the Pyramids, Shylock in Venice's former Jewish Ghetto, Hamlet on the rocks of Elsinore and much more. These scenes will be combined with extracts from the BFI's Silent Shakespeare series and our Globe On Screen filmed stage productions. Featuring a host of the world's greatest actors, The Complete Walk is an accessible, interactive way to celebrate Shakespeare's life, work and legacy, exactly 400 years on from his death. Gemmell also discussed the India Wales Fund where Welsh artists can bid for grants from a £450,000 project fund that aims to help build relationships with India. It is a joint project between Wales Arts International and the British Council, which will promote artistic partnerships between creative professionals and arts organisations in the two countries. It will support projects taking place in India and Wales in 2017 and early 2018.

Another interesting initiative, he spoke about was the Reimagine India cultural exchange programme. The UK has awarded funding to 17 projects. The purpose of the programme is to create a new work and to build sustainable networks and partnerships between artists and cultural leaders in both countries. On music, Alan announced Mix The City- Kolkata, a project that will reflect upon the evolving music scene in India in relation to the fusion of sounds between classical, folk, ethnic and contemporary music styles. It will have a mix between vocals and instrumental. The British Council is working with Sonya Mazumdar as the Indian curator along with top UK music producers to bring you Mix the City. On Reimagine he said: “Reimagine presents a huge opportunity for British arts organisations to develop new international audiences and present the UK as a vibrant hub of contemporary culture. With a cultural market of more than 64 million people in urban India, there is a great deal that UK and Indian artists and organisations can learn from each other, and I look forward to seeing both our sectors stronger as a result of these collaborations.”

Two of the Reimagine projects in East India are Silk River and Writing Places II. Led by Kinetika (UK) and Think Arts (Kolkata), Silk River explores the unique relationship between London and Kolkata through a year's artistic exchange between 20 communities along the Thames estuary and Hooghly River. Artistic director Ali Pretty - working in collaboration with associate artistic director Ruchira Das, fashion designer Neishaa Gharat and an international team of contemporary and traditional artists, writers and photographers will capture and interpret the experience of journeying along these mighty rivers through the creation of 20 scrolls hand-painted onto Bengal silk. Writing Places II is a collaborative project between a set of literary, literary translation and education partners in Kolkata and Writers Centre Norwich (WCN) that seeks to explore the relationships between place, writing, literary heritage and activism in the run up to India's Independence celebrations in 2017-18. With the involvement of Presidency University, Jadavpur's Centre for the Translation of Indian Languages (CENTIL), the Kolkata Symposium, Kolkata Literary Meet and the Kolkata City of Literature, there will be a series of interventions with the aim to transform partnerships between the two cities over a period of time. Activities in both Norwich and Kolkata will include two major events; two sets of literary translation workshops; two films; two talent development schemes; a mentoring programme by WCN to support the translation of new work from Bengali and Sylheti into English; the publication featuring work in English as well as work from Bengali and other regional languages into English; and two chapbooks of new work from University of East Anglia and Presidency University students.

For more information, please contact:

Shonali Ganguli, Head Communications East India at or
M: +91 (0) 98365 69944.

Notes to Editor

New Director India at British Council

Prior to being appointed Director India at the British Council, Alan has served as the Director Israel where he ran a £10m stem cell research fund working with world-leading medical research foundations like the British Heart Foundation and Parkinson's UK. He launched the UK's first multi-lateral research fund in the Middle East, a platform for Israeli, Palestinian and British scientists to work together to tackle critical water challenges in the region, and a PhD programme for Palestinian scientists to study at Israeli universities - supporting a new generation of scientists to work together across borders. In 2015, Alan commissioned mix the city an interactive digital art work with the BBC and Arts Council of England featuring Israeli YouTube artist Kutiman and British digital agency Flying Object. Over 500,000 users in 190 countries have taken part. Partnering  with the United Nations and the British Film Institute, Alan created fiveFilms4freedom, the world's first global, online LGBT Film Festival. In 2016 fiveFilms4freedom became the world's biggest online LGBT Film Festival with 1.5M film views and a total social media reach of 140m people. In 2016 fiveFilms4freedom published a Global List of 33 inspiring people from around the world promoting freedom and equality. The 2016 List included Indian film-maker Sridhar Rangayan and actor and director Manish Gandhi. Alan has also worked in Mexico and Brazil. He joined the British Council in 2008 to head its Government Relations. Alan spent five years in the centre of the UK Government working on: 1. counter-terrorism and the crisis response to domestic and international terror plots; 2. developing the economic migration strands of the UK's points-based migration system; and 3. as Private Secretary to the Permanent Secretary of the Home Office Sir John Gieve. Before joining the civil service Alan established the Scottish Youth Parliament. He studied law at Glasgow University and piano and trombone at the Junior School of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (now the Royal Scottish Conservatoire). Alan was appointed OBE in the 2016 New Year Honours List for services to arts and science. From May 2016 he will take up his appointment as Director of the British Council in India.

Year of Culture

The year 2017 marks the culmination of four years of Re-Imagine: a programme in the Arts designed to build new creative connections in new ways between the people and institutions of the UK and India. It offers a chance to celebrate the achievements of the world's largest democracy, and consider how the future relationship between the UK and India might help both to address the challenges of the 21st century. The purpose of UK-India 2017 Year of Culture is to increase the appreciation of contemporary UK in India, and vice versa, in order to give greater focus, depth and relevance to the long-standing relationship between the two countries. This will be done through events and projects, both face-to-face and digital in 2017, with a wider aim to reach out to newer audiences, not restricted to the metropolitan cities alone. UK-India 2017 will seek to challenge outdated perceptions of the UK with an inspiring programme that demonstrates the quality of contemporary British arts and culture. The UK-India Year of Culture was announced during the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to London in November 2015. The aim of this campaign is to highlight the vibrant cultural history of the two countries and celebrate the best "cultural exports" together.

Shakespeare on Film

Alan Gemmell inaugurated the British Film Institute's (BFI) Shakespeare Film screening of Richard III, held at Nandan on 29 July in Kolkata. The project is a collaboration between the British Council and the BFI and it celebrates Shakespeare on film, with films dating from 1899 right up to the present day. You can find the Screening schedule for India here. On 30 July, actor Parambrata Chatterjee and Alan were in conversation about Shakespeare and his relevance today. The actor, who is a UK alumnus, is playing the lead role in director Anjan Dutt's Hemanta, a contemporary Bengali adaptation of Shakespeare's Hamlet.

Mix The City – Kolkata

Mix the City – Kolkata will aim to showcase the diversity of sound, music and cultural influences from Kolkata. We will collaborate with 12 musicians who will record 24 samples (two loops per musician) that will be compiled by the main project curator/ UK producer, into a shareable 4-minute YouTube track that will rest on the main Mix the City website ( Mix the City will reflect upon the evolving music scene in India in relation to the fusion of sounds between classical, folk, ethnic and contemporary music styles. We will have a mix between vocals and instrumental. All the music will be recorded “live” at locations that capture not only the sounds but also the sights and the atmosphere of Kolkata. Mix the City Kolkata (as well as Chennai, Delhi and Mumbai) will all encourage online audiences to explore different sounds of India through its music. It will facilitate an environment where the user feels empowered to create their individual shareable Mix…of their chosen region and enjoy a sense of ownership to that music sample. It will create a connect between music, place and creativity. We are working with Sonya Mazumdar as the Indian curator along with top UK music producers to bring you Mix the City.

Mix the Play

Alan also attended a Mix The Play hack-a-thon at South City International school on 2 August, where 72 students from 12 schools in the city tried their hand at Mix the Play, an innovative interactive project which offers digital audiences the chance to play director of one of Shakespeare's most loved plays: A Midsummer Night's Dream. Mix the Play, a special edition of the popular Mix the City platform (, is commissioned with The Old Vic theatre, London. Where Mix the City placed visitors in the role of a DJ working with Kutiman's music recordings, Mix the Play will offer digital audiences the chance to play director of one of Shakespeare's most loved plays: A Midsummer Night's Dream. Visitors to the Mix the Play website are invited to make a short film from a scene in A Midsummer Night's Dream. The duration of a scene is under 3 minutes. Using pre-recorded film samples and effects, locations, costume options, visitors are given a range of elements to control, including a selection or all of casting, setting, direction of the actors, background music etc. Audiences will need to consider meaning, symbolism, tone, and storytelling, and will learn through trying and doing. The objective of Mix the Play is to engage audiences with Shakespeare and educate them about theatre direction in a fun way. In October, we will launch an Indian commission of Mix the Play with a different Shakespeare play.

Cultural Skills Unit Research Call

The research is being commissioned by the British Council's Cultural Skills Unit which develops global programmes in capacity-building and professional skills for institutions, organisations and individuals to support a stronger, more prosperous cultural sector. The research aims to identify professional development and learning needs as well as market demand, address skills gaps and identify opportunities to support India's thriving creative talent. We are seeking applications from organisations, groups or individuals with relevant experience to submit proposals. The call for proposals is open till 12 August 2016. For more information, click here

About the British Council

The British Council is recognised across India for its network of 9 libraries and cultural centres. We offer a range of specialised projects in arts, education, exams, English language and society to audiences across India and more than 100,000 members. We also provide access to  nglish language training and learning for both students and teachers, offer UK qualifications in India and enable opportunities to study in the UK. We also manage prestigious scholarships and training awards, including the Jubilee scholarships, the Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan and the Charles Wallace India Trust awards. Our English language centres in Chennai, Delhi and Kolkata provide a range of general and business English classes, specialised skills based programmes and young learner courses. We work with a wide range of Indian partners in cities all over India enabling British and Indian experts to meet and collaborate and to nurture mutually beneficial relationships.