Indian cinema, music, dance and yoga are examples of India's soft power that have had a major role to play in both bonding the Indian Diaspora and popularising the country abroad.
So when Mammootty -- one of the superstars of the Malayalam film industry -- took to the dais to talk about how India could use its soft power to its advantage, a sell-out crowd was a certainty.
The session moderated by journalist K P Nayar and also attended by Overseas Indian Minister Vayalar Ravi, witnessed people willing to even sit on the floor to catch a glimpse of the actor.
So uncontrollable was the anxiety that it prompted Minister Ravi to remark, "Mammootty certainly needs a bigger hall. I am sorry you all do not have chairs. I am sure you all are here not because the topic is interesting or you find me interesting; you are here only for Mammootty."
In his keynote address, Mammootty said, "I am an actor, not a speaker. And I have not prepared anything today. It is a big task to promote Indian films, as there are so many languages and cultures. Yet we are united as one. The other day, I was at a function of bankers and there I told them that in spite of so many languages and cultures, I am glad we still use one currency."
"We are united not by language but by emotion. Tamil Nadu is united with Kerala by emotion. We are two states, but there are no borders between us. There is a feeling of India; there is a feeling of oneness."
"Before Independence we were a union of countries of rajas, nawabs and various different states. Only after Independence did we become a republic of states. The United States has so many states, but all speak one language. Here in India we have so many languages, yet the feeling is that we are Indians."
KP Nayar introduced Siddharth Kak as the man behind Surabhi which ran for 11 years on national TV.
Kak said, "We can make people do what we want in three ways, one is with a stick, the other is with a bribe and the third is by attracting them. A stick is violent, bribery is illegal and so attracting is the best. None of us cannot be attracted to Mammooty, and so we must use this soft power in the world. Soft power, apart from films, includes food and culture. It's the future of the digital airways.
"India is an idea in the minds of the world. The young among the diaspora have become world citizens. You people will connect with the young in India through the digital world. Bollywood has given India a name around the world."
In the question-answer session that followed, virtually all the questions went to Mammooty. "Sir, as a child I remember watching so many plays, even political parties used to put across their message through plays. Then I went abroad and came back after many many years. Now I don't see so many plays being enacted. Why?"
Mammooty replied, "TV has changed everything. Times do change, we have to accept that. Schools of theatre are still there. There is a school of drama in Thrissur. Theatre is still there but few. Everything changes with time."
"Will you start an acting academy and teach there?" "There are enough good actors who teach. I am not a teacher. I still haven't learnt."
"Sir, how would you define friendship, you must be having many false friends?" "Friendship is about knowing each other. When you open your heart, he too will open his. I have many friends. I have found out that childhood friends are the best and you also will realise that some day."
"Sir, you have acted in Malayalam and Hindi movies, what about Hollywood?". "I am past the age of Hollywood, the answer is No!"
"Sir, what do you think of Kamal Haasan's idea of releasing his movie through DTH?"
"Kamal Haasan should have been here to answer this question. But he is not here and so I will answer. It' an experiment and he can do it because it's a big budget film. I can make a movie with less than a crore, any small budget movie cannot try this. But it's a new technology and a new way. We should try new ways. The audience should have a choice whether they want to watch it on the big screen or the small."
"Society has given you so much, what have you done in return?" "I am the one who gave first. I gave myself to my fans. I entertain them and in return they have given me love."
"Why have you not entered politics?" "There is less competition in films."
Then there was a lady from Spain who asked him if he would act in an Indo-Spanish film. "Definitely. Does anyone else have any roles to offer me," he replied, prompting the audience to break into laughter.
"Sir, we have two superstars and none of the young actors are even near you, why?" "They started late, but you don't worry. We are fading stars. We will go and their time will come. They will become even bigger stars than us, you just wait and see."
Then there was this young lady from Indonesia who said, "I have been your fans for years. I am privileged to speak to you, see you, meet you, even now my heart is pounding so hard." Mammooty merely blushed and laughed at this, even though the audience turned hysterical at this.
Many wanted to take a photo with the actor. "The stage is small for all of you, so the photographers please come on stage and shoot from here. I will come and stand with you in the audience. But you must promise not to mob me."
He then went down from the dais and posed with the audience. Their day was made and for some it was their highlight of Pravasi Bharatiya Divas 2013.
Image: Malayalam actor-producer Mammootty addressing the gathering. Also seen are Overseas Indian Minister Vayalar Ravi, journalist K P Nayar and television producer Siddharth Kak.