Twitter in India to come alive in new documentary

September 13, 2013

Four years ago, Singapore-based documentary filmmaker Tan Siok Siok asked her Twitter friends to contribute ideas for a Twitter documentary. That was the beginning of her crowd-sourced film ‘Twittamentary’. She spent three years travelling across the United States, meeting strangers and documenting experiences on Twitter as she made the film.

Later this year, two Indian social media consultants, Avinash Kalla and Bhaskar Pant, in collaboration with Siok, plan to release a new film for India. “Twittamentary India” will look at the interactions that politicians, journalists and ordinary people have on Twitter in the country.

The essence remains the same as the original “Twittamentary”, a film about the Twitter community with the help of people on the social media website, but exploring different themes.

In India, Twitter has found favour as a platform for politicians to reach out to people and express their opinions. It has also made it easier for people to get access to lawmakers; some have even responded.

“I have been tweeting for the last four years, and I thought why don’t we explore the angle that how is 140 characters handling the dialogue in this so-called world’s largest democracy, how people are now connected to politicians on Twitter, how politicians are connected to Twitter, and journalists, who used to believe that they are the source of information, are now challenged on Twitter,” said Kalla, who contacted Siok via Twitter.

The original film, which premiered in June 2012 at a New York cinema, dealt with human interest stories, stories of ordinary people on Twitter and the impact Twitter has had on their lives. It was screened at various film festivals and cities, with the help of people on Twitter, prior to its release.

The India documentary will be slightly different.

“I do feel that India has a lot to offer in terms of Twitter stories. You see very interesting stories in India because of the democratic structure, people are very outspoken and therefore they are also outspoken on Twitter, I think the culture is such that you can see a lot is out in the open in social media,” Siok said.

(Also read: Interview: India has a lot to offer in terms of Twitter stories – Twittamentary director)

Not so long ago, most politicians in India sneered at social media. Now, with the general elections coming in 2014, political parties are clamouring for an effective social media presence and strategy.

Given its Twitter context, the makers are hoping to create distinct hashtags for the various films. The one on India may have hashtags such as journalism, politics and society.

“The original film was more of an open question: how has Twitter changed your life? But in terms of future, if you have to have multiple local chapters, it is helpful to give each one a very distinct character or identity to differentiate between them,” Siok said.

India is the first local version, and Siok is looking for more. There has been interest from Singapore, the UK, Pakistan and Poland.

With more than 500 million users, Twitter is said to hold active accounts for about three-quarters of the world’s politicians.

There are about 150 million Internet users in India, about 12.5 percent of India’s estimated population of 1.2 billion. About 20 million people use Twitter in India.

Tweets by politicians make headlines every other day. Some politicians tweet about cricket. Some, such as parliamentarians Sushma Swaraj and Manish Tewari, take pot shots at one another. The initial hesitation towards social media has almost vanished and politicians keep finding new ways to connect with their followers.

The film features a talk with Shashi Tharoor, who became kind of a Twitter celebrity while others were still weighing the pros and cons of social media. The filmmakers are still trying to talk to Narendra Modi, the most famous politician on Twitter in India with more than 2 million followers.

“Omar Abdullah never issues a statement now, he just tweets,” said Kalla. “Sushma Swaraj has stopped giving interviews, she is there on Twitter. Narendra Modi, his every statement is on Twitter.”

(Follow Arnika Thakur on Twitter @arnikathakur)

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