Oz Fest to script new Australia-India culture exchange

New Delhi: Australia and India will open a new chapter in public diplomacy and cultural exchange with the `Oz Fest`, Australian high commissioner to India Peter Varghese said in the capital Tuesday.

The festival is a five-month cultural bouquet of indigenous cricket, music, performance arts, movies and food. It will be held Oct 16, 2012-Feb 5, 2013 with 100 events in 18 cities.

The festival will begin at the Purana Qila (Old Fort) in the national capital with a concert of traditional Australian music featuring aboriginal songwriter Gurrumul Yunupingu, didgeridoo virtuoso Mark Atkins and Indian classical musician Anoushka Shankar against a backdrop of a three-dimensional light projection.

The festival will bring into its fold a series of unique 50-over and 20-over cricket matches between Australia`s National Indigenous Cricket Team and the members of local cricket clubs in Mumbai and Pune.

Another highlight of the festival is the Melbourne Comedy Festival road show. It will feature five comedians and a spot competition to find a new Indian talent from across four cities of Pune, Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore.

The festival, described as one of the biggest Australia cultural showcase in India by Varghese, seeks to explore India`s potential as a culture and entertainment market for Australian businesses and further people-to-people contact, the envoy said.

"We have had contact at the cultural level before but not on this scale. The reason why we are putting emphasis on culture is that if you want to build strong connections between the two countries, it has to do much with the prospect of long-term relationships. It is a public diplomacy initiative," envoy Varghese said.

He added that the Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard who is to visit India next month, is committed "to strengthening the bilateral cultural relationship".

He said Australia was a multi-cultural community and it looked to the large Indian community to make the strongest contribution to Australian culture, life and society.

Varghese said the "last census showed that the fastest growing community in Australia was Indians with Hinduism as the fastest growing religion". Migrants from Punjab were the biggest linguistic group.

The envoy noted that Indian investment in Australia had increased significantly. However, the sphere "which was growing the fastest was people-to-people contact".

Indian dances, Bollywood and Indian spirituality were big draws among the Indian diaspora and the local Australians, actor and Bharatnatyam Pallavi Sharda, an Oz Fest ambassador said.

Sharda, who was born and bred in Australia, is shooting her first Hindi feature film, ‘Besharam’ in Mumbai.

Australia will reach out to India with a movie, "Fearless Nadia", tracing the country`s Bollywod link. Fearless Nadia or "Hunterwalli", a Bollywood stunt actress of yesteryears, was born as Mary Ann Evans in Perth in western Australia. She came to Bombay in 1913 with her father and made India her home. She cut a niche on screen with her "flair for circus antics, ballet and horse-riding as fearless Nadia".

The festival will bring to India a snapshot of the Australian contemporary music with live shows by leading bands and modern literature.

Australian masterchefs Gary Mehigan, George Calombiris, Bill Marchetti and Christine Manfield will cook traditional fare at parallel food festivals and interact with foodies in workshops.