'It's important to be confused in life'

Oct 13, 2015, 11:16 IST


Prasoon Joshi straddles the world of advertising and films and has found great success in both. The lyricist, poet, writer and ad guru recalls the early days
that shaped him and how, after much meandering, he found his true calling.


"My childhood and much of adulthood was spent in the lap of nature in the small hill town of Almora. Films and their music found little place in our home where the atmosphere was that of literature and Hindustani classical music.

"Life in the mountains was a source of inspiration to me and I started writing stories, poetry and prose as a child. We had limited means but were culturally rich; I imbibed the folk
culture of Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh, and its literature, not in a formatted but in a very interesting way—through books, music, kavi sammelans, mushairas, street plays. If you read my writing, you’ll fi nd that I reference a lot from nature.

"I grew up amidst the scenic beauty of the Himalayas, where the wind and the sound it makes, or the fi rst rays of sunlight and the way it travels, aren’t luxuries you’re accorded if you grow up in a bustling city in an apartment. Also, there is the luxury of time, and few distractions. I could watch the sunlight travel from one mountain peak to another from my window for hours. Another thing I have observed in smaller towns is that the women are very strong. For instance, my grandmother was widowed at 19 and she was illiterate, but when she retired, it was as school principal. She had educated herself and brought her daughter up. These things subconsciously tiptoe in and make themselves a part of you and refl ect in your work later on.

"A very fond memory from those days: I wrote stories during the summer holidays and compiled them in small hand-bound books that became a part of the self-created Prasoon Bal Pustakalaya, a circulating library. A princely sum of 50 paise charged for each booklet I wrote went on to make my childhood richer in myriad ways.

"But as I grew up, the vibrant creative atmosphere of home notwithstanding, parental wisdom made it clear that writing and music were not viable career options. I recall my father
telling me I couldn’t survive on poetry in the real world. That’s when I took the decision to pursue the conventional path of formal education. When I look back, I often wonder why I didn’t go against my parents’ wishes and pursue my passion.

"I guess, even as a youngster, I could not disregard their wishes enough to be rebellious. However, I did not find business management alone stimulating and was unsure about the path that lay ahead. I was dreading being placed in a typical 9 to 5 job environment. And I literally ran away from an interview call from a paint company. Then, one fi ne day, a very unique company arrived at our institute to recruit summer trainees. I learnt that there exists a field of work called communication and advertising—a career in which I could employ a combination of my training in business management and my interests in literature, writing, poetry and music. Most of the art forms that I loved had relevance in advertising.

"This was where I would get paid to write—a dream come true! However, I was still uncertain and confused about the path I had chosen because mass media communication as a career option was comparatively new and found very few takers. I struggled the fi rst few years in advertising as the language, lifestyle, the martini lunches, the entire environment was totally new. Even then, I had a certain pride in my writing, having experimented with it and gotten my first book published at 17. There was a vacuum of those who understood the business jargon as well as the language of people and that is the aspect I brought in. From my initial days of writing campaigns for brands like Nokia, Cadbury, Asian Paints, Coca Cola, Happydent and Nestlé, to working on social campaigns on malnutrition, women empowerment as well as the political campaign for the 2014 general elections—it’s been a journey.

"When I look back on this phase, I feel it is important to be confused in life; it is a signifi cant stage. The frustration one experiences during that time is a personal journey, one where you understand your strengths and strike a balance with what you want to do. The initial lack of clarity made me explore, experiment and tread an unconventional path.  Of course, there were rough periods, but getting bogged down was not an option. Somehow the belief in my work—sometimes bleak, sometimes aglow—remained.

Hum to dariya hain,
hume apna hunnar maloom hain.
Jahan jayenge raste bann jayenge

(Like a river, I know my strength. In what ever direction I flow, I shall carve a path).

"Films and music albums were still nowhere on my radar. However, all through, my love for writing remained an integral part of my existence. I loved music and would spend all my
free time in and around Kamani auditorium in Delhi, listening to classical music concerts till the wee hours. I stayed on the outskirts of Delhi and after the bus service stopped at 11 pm one had to wait till five or six in the morning for the service to resume. So, after many late-night concerts, I would huddle up and sleep contentedly on the bench at the bus stop, with the raags reverberating in my head.
"It was during this phase that I met some like-minded people and dabbled in writing songs for bands and musicians like Silk Route and Shubha Mudgal. A film director noticed
my work in the music albums. Lajja, Hum Tum, Fanaa, Delhi 6, Taare Zameen Par followed. Dialogue writing came my way in Rang De Basanti and then the story, screenplay and
dialogues of Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. My thoughts, approach and point of view about writing stem neither from a lineage nor from a fi lm background; they come purely from what I have perceived, experienced and sensorially consumed as a person and as a writer. The world sees me as a poet, scriptwriter and an advertising guru and often asks me how I manage to focus on diverse fi elds together. I consider myself essentially as someone who loves ‘thought-telling’. In advertising, we do a lot of consumer research since you have to constantly update your brand. That has helped me in my writing for fi lms too.

"My work in films has helped me bring a lot of poetic sensibilities, storytelling techniques, musical aspects into my ad work too. Advertising took me all over the world. I was the chairman of the Cannes (Lions Advertising Festival) jury this year—the fi rst Asian, in fact, to be asked to chair the panel. It was another rewarding experience and like a crash course in what’s happening in the world of communication.

"Ultimately we all have to choose our own path. People around you can help in sharpening your skills but you have to listen to your own calling. It should be your personal
quest. Everyone should follow the principle of swadharma, which means to fi nd the right place to manifest ourselves as energy. My true calling was to be an effective communicator,
connecting people with new ideas and emotions. Inspiration for this comes to me from life around me.

"Seeing a child smile, encountering a pure thought, honesty, sacrifice in another human being, are all experiences that make me feel spiritual. Whatever is pure in nature holds
a spiritual aspect for me. Writing is one such aspect. But it’s a continuous journey. It takes a lifetime to master one’s craft so much that one is able to express even the minutest of thoughts and feelings. There is always a degree of separation between what one has expressed and written and what one has deeply felt. In that sense, I will always remain work in
progress, a student for life. Sometimes a journey is a more beautiful than the destination.