British Council turns 70, focusses on online space

British Council turns 70, focusses on online space

Alan Gemmell, director, British Council, India.

To those who have read about India-UK relations closely, Alan Gemmell’s might be a familiar name. He was responsible for the successful orchestration of the 2017 UK-India Year of Culture with 200 events across 35 towns and cities in India reaching 7.7 million people on ground, 75 million online and 832 million through press and broadcast.

Alan is currently in the city to be a part of the 70th-anniversary celebrations of the British Council in India, as part of which the organisation is organising many programmes, including those for women and children.

This unprecedented level of cultural exchange was supported by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and British PM Theresa May in April.

As the trusted organisation turns 70, they are launching a vast, ambitious digital platform that Alan believes will benefit various cities in the country. He was especially vocal about Bengaluru and recounts the time he met Ben Gomes, the vice-president of Google Search.

“He told me ‘I used to go to your (British) library in Bengaluru when it was above Koshy’s, when I was eight years old. And I tell people that your library was the Google of its day.”

The council plans to go young at 70. Realising that the ideal way to reach out to the younger audiences is through their phones, Gemmell and his team took one of their first steps to reach out to the youth.

“I set up what has become the world’s biggest online gay film festival, which is called ‘fiveFilms4freedom’. This year, through Jio Cinema, we put out five films for the Indian audiences, one of which was Goddess, by an Indian filmmaker. 2.8 million people watched the film online. That was the beginning of our digital engagement.

In one of their more ambitious projects – Mix The Play – the British Council has “created an Indian version of Romeo and Juliet, where you can direct Adil Hussain and Kalki Koechlin in the balcony scene of Romeo and Juliet on your mobile.

Through these online projects, the British Council also aims to reach out to the artists of the country. Alan says projects will bring global exposure to Indian talent. The British Council hopes to tap into, what Alan believes, is the dynamism of Indian cities. They are “driving the new economies,” he says.

“The council is also planning to work closely with the Indian Music Museum to tell the incredible story of India’s music from 5,000 years ago.”


Fears of Brexit loom over the minds of many Indian students, aspiring for British universities. However, Alan repeatedly assures us about building trust between the UK and India. “There is an incredible competition among the countries for India’s attention and to attract the country’s best and brightest students. And the UK is one of those countries,” he says. Alan informs that Rs 18 crore is being invested for “the most inspiring women to study in the UK”.

He says the aim is to make sure that “in the next 70 years, there won’t be any area that Indian women are not studying and no sector of the economy where Indian women are not studying.” “We are open and connected, we are open and attracted,” he signs off.

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