Karl Adam, a US diplomat hailing from Houston, grew up among children of Indian scientists and engineers working with NASA, and among Bollywood movies and songs. So, when the US Embassy’s social media team decided to put out a fun Bollywood video, he was among the first to put his name down. In the video, Adam, in a thick American accent, mouths Shashi Kapoor’s immortal line from Deewar, “Mere paas maa hai”.
Alaina, who is from Massachusetts, learnt Hindi before coming to the Embassy about a year ago. She says Bollywood movies helped her understand the nuances and jokes of Indian culture. So she was the pick for Deepika Padukone’s line “Ek chutki sindoor ki keemat…”, from the movie Om Shanti Om.
The video kicks off with George Hogeman, the head of the Embassy’s consular section and an avid Bollywood buff, asking, as in Sholay, “Kitney aadmi the?”.
The video featuring the three and posted by the Embassy has since gone viral, viewed more than 1.6 lakh times in the last 10 days.
The US Embassy has been without a full-time Ambassador since January this year, with Charge d’Affaires MaryKay Loss Carlson leading the mission’s public outreach on social media. Kenneth Juster, who is expected to take over by the end of October or early November, appeared before the US Congress for confirmation process this week.
In July-August this year, Carlson had sought suggestions on social media to help her pick a sari to wear for India’s Independence Day. She had gone for a sari based on the hunt, hashtagged #Sareesearch. Apart from August 15, she has now been wearing saris to other official and social occasions.
Carlson told The Sunday Express that “the Bollywood audition video” was part of their month-long initiative to recognise US-India cultural ties. “September 30th was designated ‘U.S.-India Partnership Day’ in 2014 (because Prime Minister Narendra Modi and then US President Barack Obama met in Washington DC that day) and this was the third anniversary of this special day. We celebrated #USIndiaDosti mission-wide throughout the month of September. This along with my #SareeSearch is our way of acknowledging important cultural touchstones and showing our Embassy community’s respect and appreciation for Indian culture and traditions. People-to-people ties are the foundation of our bilateral relations. We recognise that social media is a powerful platform that helps us reach a wider audience and have been using it more actively lately.”
In the past eight months, the US Embassy has put out 71 videos — or more than two videos every week. While the Bollywood video has caught everyone’s attention, there have been others. In August, US diplomats took to the rooftops to fly kites, keeping with the culture of flying kites around Independence Day. The video got 34,000 views.
An American diplomat reciting shayari in a short, 41-second, video, got 23,000 views. A group of US diplomats going for a ride on their Enfield motorcycles and stopping for a cup of chai had 1.68 lakh views. US Embassy kids dancing to bhangra got 1.54 lakh views. Carlson herself put out a video of her visit to Chittaranjan Park for Durga Puja celebrations, getting 56,000 views.
In Mumbai, the US Consulate did a fun “Modak Maestro” contest video for the Ganesh festival, as well as a Dandiya Dance-off more recently for Navratri.
The highest number of views so far have been for a video of children of US diplomats, Olivia and Savannah, playing Jana Gana Mana on their flutes. 2.4 million views.
“With our #USIndiaDosti initiative, we want to showcase the appreciation, fascination, and respect our US diplomatic community has for Indian culture, traditions, and languages. It is our people-to-people ties which serve as the bedrock of the US-India relationship,” said Joseph Kruzich, US Embassy’s spokesperson.
Adam, the Deputy Cultural Affairs Officer at the US Embassy, says during a recent visit to the Bharatpur sanctuary, some people even recognised him from the Bollywood video. “I am not doing this for publicity, but I understand how importance culture is for people-to-people connection. It feels great to be part of the campaign,” he says.
In 2015, then German ambassador Michael Steiner had also used Bollywood similarly. He had released an eight-minute video that had him cavorting with wife Eliese Steiner and former external affairs minister Salman Khurshid, to a remake of the song Kal ho naa ho, from the 2003 film of the same name.
The US Embassy is next planning videos in time for Diwali, before it gets busy in prepartions for the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) in Hyderabad from November 28 to 30, which will be attended by US President’s daughter and advisor Ivanka Trump. “GES is our main focus now,” Gouri Seetharam, assistant information officer who leads the embassy’s digital media team, said.