Soft Power

From Kannada rock to Sufi gospel: India puts its soft power on show in Australia

A 12-week-long festival across seven cities in the continent gives cultural diplomacy a big push.

Cultural diplomacy is putting a positive spin on the India-Australia bilateral relationship and also enriching the Australian economy.

The first Confluence Festival of India in Australia, touted as one of the largest foreign cultural festivals to be organised in the continent country, rolled out 25 productions showcased at over 70 different events at iconic landmarks across seven cities, in 12 weeks starting from August.

For decades, India’s soft power potential has remained largely untapped, but the Narendra Modi government has been focusing on raising India’s profile in the international arena through cultural diplomacy. The Indian high commissioner to Australia, Navdeep Suri, strongly believes that “India is a super power when it comes to soft power and Prime Minister Modi has been adroit in recognising the potential of yoga and cultural diplomacy in raising India’s profile around the world”.

The country is leveraging culture as a tool of diplomacy to strengthen its reputation as an innovative, creative and culturally robust nation in this age of likes, tweets and hits.

“Public diplomacy is an essential handmaiden of traditional diplomacy and its importance will only increase in a global economy and a global media stuffed full of rapidly changing images,” said the former Australian high commissioner to India, Peter Varghese. “For our relationship with India, public diplomacy is essential if we are to build the strategic partnership which both governments desire and which our converging interests makes necessary.”

He added, “But in the end, the hard yards of public diplomacy are gained not by governments but by individuals and groups. It is the networks in the arts, in business, in education and in all the other nooks and crannies of community life that underpin a people-to-people relationship.”

All things Indian

The 12-week-long festival of all things Indian – dance, music, theatre, visual arts, cartooning, puppetry, khadi and, of course, yoga – has struck a chord that will endure long after its final act, the dance drama Jatayu Moksham from the Ramayana by The Kalakshetra Foundation in Canberra on November 8.

Sponsored by the Indian government, the Ministry of Culture and the Indian Council for Cultural Relations have pitched in more than Rs 2.5 crore while the Australian government has granted AU$250,000 (Rs 1.2 crore approximately) for the festival. In addition, there has been plenty of support in kind from state and local authorities. This includes the gala opening at the Sydney Opera House, which was supported by the New South Wales state government. Some of the venues were made available on a discounted or revenue-sharing basis and this has helped bring down costs considerably.

“The total in kind support that we received, including the media support from the ABC [Australian Broadcasting Corporation], would be worth well over a million dollars,” said Suri, who decided to use the public-private partnership model, riding high on the successful festivals he previously organised in South Africa and Egypt. It resulted in an international-class show unbridled by bureaucratic constraints.

“By supplementing government resources with private sector and local contributions, we got the flexibility to work with local groups and forge the kind of collaboration that one saw in Sydney Opera House on September 18,” Suri said. “We were also able to do special media launch events for the festival and reach out to new audiences via social media. This would be much harder if we were only reliant on government funding.”

Australian economy

In return, the festival has made a substantial contribution to the local economy. “On a conservative scale, the festival has contributed over AU$ 2 million to the Australian economy from venue hires, sale of tickets, hospitality, etc,” said Sanjoy Roy, managing director of India-based entertainment company Teamwork Arts, which was entrusted with the responsibility of organising the events.

Securing iconic venues such as the Opera House in Sydney, Federation Square in Melbourne, Queensland Performing Arts Centre in Brisbane, Festival Centre in Adelaide, the Old Parliament in Canberra and the State Theatre in Perth was a challenge.

“Once the mainstream venues understood what we wished to present, they were enthused and welcoming and created gaps in their plans to host festival programmes,” said Roy. “What helped was that we reached out to them well in time and discussed jointly what would or could work in terms of audience engagement and what would drive ticket sales.”

Teamwork Arts has been working in Australia since 2002. “The professionalism that technology and production crew displayed in their dealings with artists and my colleagues was always in keeping with best practices and Australia’s reputation of having excellent sound engineers, technicians and theatre staff,” said Roy. “We have always found that the arts-going audiences in Australia have both welcomed and celebrated the diversity and richness of Indian performing and visual arts.”

Mainstream audience

So, did the festival catch the fancy of mainstream Australians and succeed in going beyond the stereotypes – cricket, Bollywood, Kashmir, poverty?

“I feel that perceptions about India are changing anyway, thanks to the growth of the Indian economy and the impact made by Prime Minister Modi in the international arena,” said high commissioner Navdeep Suri. “But through the festival, we wanted to convey that in addition to the well-known classical arts forms, there is also a youthful and vibrant India that is comfortable in its own skin, happy to experiment with different art forms and quite unselfconscious about borrowing from others.”

The above was reflected in Raghu Dixit’s Kannada rock, in Sonam Kalra’s Sufi gospel project, in Piya Behrupiya – a uniquely Indian take on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night – and cartoonist Ajit Ninan’s talk on political humour. While the Raghu Dixit performances were dominated by audiences from the diaspora, all the other shows had 60% to 65% mainstream audiences.

As Christopher Zinn, a consumer campaigner and former foreign correspondent residing in Sydney’s Bondi beach area, said, “While many Australians might be hard pressed to realise there was a specific festival, few might have overlooked the many and varied ways India and Indians have been active, alive and on display in our public life over the past few months. As a result, the exotic energy of India, which contrasts so sharply with average Australia, is becoming both more familiar and welcome to the mainstream.”

The Indian high commission worked with selected journalists from Australia’s main print outlets, arranging for a few to visit India before the festival to interview the artistes and capture the stories behind renowned institutions such as Nrityagram and Kalakshetra. Publicity about the festival in specialised outlets like Time Out also played a major role in driving audiences to the shows.

“Our media partnership with ABC clearly played a big role in generating so much coverage for the festival in the mainstream media,” Suri said. “I am delighted that I could persuade Michelle Guthrie, the new CEO of ABC, that our festival would fit well into her own plans to bring greater diversity into ABC content.”

The response has been gratifying even in the remote town of Alice Springs, where Confluence partnered with the Desert Song Festival, and in Perth, where Delhi-based artist Vibhor Sogani’s art installation Mahatma in Me, was showcased at Elizabeth Quay. Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s saying “Be the change that you wish to see in the world”, the installation has subtle images of Gandhi and some impressions of his thoughts expressed in mirror finish stainless steel. “It attracted people to see their own reflection in the image of the Mahatma, pause and possibly introspect… a moment of self-realisation and the responsibility we all carry to bring about the change,” said Sogani.

Similarly, designer Sunaina Suneja’s exhibition, Bapu: The Craftperson’s Vision, in Brisbane and her khadi fashion show at the India Australia Business and Community Awards in Sydney were warmly received. She had styled the garments for an Australian audience, for Spring-Summer 2016-’17 and beyond, enforcing the natural fibre’s versatility and global appeal.

“The architecture for Confluence to become an annual event has been put in place and I am pretty sure it will be back in 2017,” said Suri, who is moving on as the Indian ambassador to Abu Dhabi after an 18-month stint in Australia.

The writer is president of the Foreign Correspondents’ Association (Australia & South Pacific).

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Inspiration for the lazy, the casual and the gourmet home chefs alike

Discover, or rediscover the daily delight in food, one ingredient at a time.

It is known that home chefs can be arranged in a pyramid - the lazy ones at the bottom, the casual cooks in the middle and the gourmet experts at the top. While the challenges differ with each level, great solutions exist to make every meal an experience, regardless of the kind of cook you are. This guide to creating delightful food has something for everyone.

The lazy, hassled home chefs

You can ease into cooking by putting together meals that require minimal technique. Salads are a good place to start. Experiment with seasonal and exotic fruits and vegetables, tender vegetables and herbs, and artisanal breads as sides for a fresh, healthy and surprisingly gourmet experience.

Don’t be dismayed if you’re a non-vegetarian. There are still meals that require next-to-no prep. Think sausages that can easily be fried or grilled and cold cuts that pack a flavour punch. Health-conscious people can look for additive-free, preservative-free meat, bromate free bread and produce from free-range farms for assurance of quality. For variety, you can even put together a great Middle Eastern platter with fresh hummus and other dips.

For the casual cooks looking to impress

So, you can cook a decent meal but are looking to give your food that X-factor? To liven up regular dishes, experiment with superfoods which make your meals nutritious and novel. Try combinations like oats chila, quinoa or couscous upmas or a sprinkle of chia seeds in your breakfast pudding. Look for quality imports and efficient distribution for maximum retention of nutrients in superfoods.

Skilled enough to host people? An upgrade from basic ingredients is the most visible sign of your culinary progression. Experiment with exotic herbs like parsley, rosemary and sage as garnishing for intriguing flavours in your soups and salads. For lip-smacking desserts, use exotic fruits like kiwi, dragon fruit, acai berries and rambutan – your guests will be delighted.

For the perfectionist gourmet chefs

You’re quite the culinary expert in your circles, but want to leap to the next level? At the core of a successful gourmet creation lie the best ingredients. Seek a delicatessen which gives you only the freshest and most diverse range of ingredients. You’ll notice the difference in flavours as you move from garlic powder to actual garlic, and from chilli powder to real paprika in your preparations.

From the basic to the exotic, whatever ingredients you seek to implement the tips we just gave you are available at Godrej Nature’s Basket, the best store for fresh, quality ingredients. As the video below shows, their online and offline stores source and serves a wide variety of foods - fruits & vegetables, authentic delicatessen, the finest meats, irresistible bakery products, ready-to-cook sauces, healthy snacks and more.

Play

Health-conscious people can also be assured of unmatched quality. You can choose from pesticide free offerings, organic fruits and vegetables, steroid-free meats, first catch of the day fish and seafood, bromate free bread and the best dairy and cheese from all over the world.

With their collection of hors d’oeuvre, artisanal breads, confectionary and desserts, there’s really no limit to what you can achieve daily in your kitchen. What’s more, all these high-quality products come at great, affordable prices.

To elevate your cooking and discover a world where food is a delight every day, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Godrej Nature’s Basket and not by the Scroll editorial team.