Biggest ever Oz cultural festival in India from Oct

New Delhi: Australia will stage its biggest ever cultural festival in India in October, Australian High Commissioner Peter Varghese said here Tuesday.

“Oz Fest”, to be held Oct 16, 2012-Feb 5, 2013, would showcase Australian culture through shows and exhibitions in theatre, music, dance, cinema and art in 18 Indian cities with 100 events.

Oz Fest 2012 aims to project contemporary Australia to Indian audiences.

“Three years ago, the two Prime Ministers (India and Australia) formally designated ours a strategic partnership. We are poised to take Australia-India relations up a level and that is why we want do to the Oz Fest,” the High Commissioner told media persons giving a preview of the upcoming festival.

The Australian envoy said Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard is scheduled to be present at the festival’s opening concert featuring Australian aboriginal singer Gurrumul Yunupingu and Indian classical musician Anoushka Shankar, to be held Oct 16 at the capital’s Purana Qila monument.

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 roadshow. 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.

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

He added that the Australian Prime Minister who was scheduled to visit India next month was 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.

Verghese said the “last census showed that the fastest growing community in Australia was Indian with Hinduism as the fastest growing religion”. The 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 the 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 with director Abhinav Kashyap of “Dabangg” fame.

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 carved a niche on screen with her “flair for circus antics, ballet and horse-riding as fearless Nadia” in 1930.

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

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.

Oz Fest’s cultural programme will be complemented by business and networking events across four cities, with a focus on innovation, science and technology, mining and resources and food and beverage.

Australia is the world’s biggest exporter of coal and also has the largest known reserves of zinc, uranium, lead nickel and silver.

The Australian government has reportedly committed one million Australian dollars, and raised two millions more, for the Oz Fest.

Australia’s Minister for Arts, Simon Crean, recently said events such as the Oz Fest and the increasing importance that Australia is attaching to cultural diplomacy are signs of Australia’s growing economic confidence and part of a push to usher in greater people-to-people contacts, particularly among countries in Asia.

“We see the Oz Fest as the beginning of an enduring partnership and a means towards securing the strategic partnership between Australia and India,” High Commissioner Varghese said.