There can't be many better ways to start a job than by meeting Gandalf in Mumbai. But that's one of the many benefits of being the new Director of the British Council in India. This week, the British Council and the British Film Institute invited Sir Ian McKellen, one of Britain's greatest actors, to launch Shakespeare on Film -- our programme to take Shakespeare across India.
Over the next seven months, people across the country will be able to watch the greatest film adaptations of Shakespeare's plays at British Council offices and libraries, including Sir Ian's critically acclaimed 1995 performance of Richard III, set in 1930s England with Kristin Scott Thomas and Dame Maggie Smith. We're also screening Kenneth Brannagh's Much Ado About Nothing with Emma Thompson and Keanu Reeves; All Night Long, Basil Dearden's 1962 adaptation of Othello; Franco Zefferelli's Academy Award-nominated Romeo and Juliet; and Derek Jarman's The Tempest.
Over the next seven months, people across the country will be able to watch the greatest film adaptations of Shakespeare's plays at British Council offices and libraries...
Shakespeare on Film is part of the British Council's global programme, Shakespeare Lives, to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the death of Shakespeare in 1616. It's also about the British Council finding new ways to connect with people online and on their mobiles. On 23 April, our worldwide digital celebration of Shakespeare reached 750 million people. At the same time, in London, Prince Charles competed on stage with Sir Ian and Dame Judi Dench to perform Hamlet's immortal line: To be, or not to be.
I'm excited to be in India right now as tens of millions of people take up the opportunities of digital and mobile. There are 350 million internet users here and YouTube India has between 100 and 150 million unique views a week -- accessing brilliant Indian and global content. Because of this, digital offers an opportunity for the British Council to connect with millions of people across India and for us to develop partnerships between brilliant British and Indian organizations. Partnerships that celebrate Indian innovation as much as innovation in the UK. It also offers us an opportunity to transform what we do.
So today we've launched our first open call for brilliant digital ideas to help us reach 50 million people online in our 2017 UK-India Year of Culture. We are offering £10,000 to organizations to give us digital ideas with culture at their heart ahead of a potential full commission for 2017. We want to work with organizations with both new ideas and a real track record of reaching new audiences digitally.
[T]oday we've launched our first open call for brilliant digital ideas to help us reach 50 million people online in our 2017 UK-India Year of Culture.
Over the last few years I've launched a couple of digital ideas with the British Council. The one I'm most proud of is fiveFilms4freedom, another great partnership with the British Film Institute. It's become the world's biggest online LGBT film festival and, in 2016, over 10 days, 1.5 million people in 179 countries watched an LGBT film -- in India too. FiveFilms4freedom is about the powerful role of film in sharing stories that resonate across countries, classes and any other divide. It's also about connecting great ideas from the UK with the world for a social purpose: we believe in freedom and equality and in the fiveFilms4freedom tagline, love is a human right.
We also believe in the power of culture to connect people, help us understand one another better and to celebrate individuals -- with all our difference and diversity. So this year we published our first fiveFilms4freedom Global List of inspiring people using culture to promote freedom, equality and LGBT rights. I'm really pleased that Sridhar Rangayan, founder of KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival, and director and actor Manish Ghandi were included in our list -- and that we're taking Gandalf/Magneto/Sir Ian to open KASHISH this year.
The British Council has a great history in India and many people remember -- and still use -- our libraries. I hope we'll be equally remembered for our digital ideas and the transformative, inspiring and surprising things we will do together with you over the next four years too.
Contact HuffPost India
Also see on HuffPost: