It is a testimony to his popularity that lyricist Prasoon Joshi had a hard time entering the rather small Samvad venue at Diggi Palace for his session Ideate: Freedom to Dream. When all seats were taken, people stood in the aisles and the area around the open venue to watch the hour-long session where the advertising icon talked about the enduring power of ideas with activist Puneeta Roy.
The adoring crowds were duly rewarded with the Padma Shri-awardee reciting some of his verses and singing his popular songs.
Explaining why he chose to pursue a Master’s in Business Administration despite being interested in poetry and having published his first book of poems at 17, Joshi said, “I realised early on that my poetry would not be able to support me and for that for some time, I’d have to support it. Communication was a field where I could get paid for my writing.”
Advertising, he said, involves giving an emotional connect to something physical. “That’s how brand building works. My ads come from understanding the pulse of the people,” he said while discussing his award-winning Thanda Matlab Coca-Cola campaign. Ads are hyperbolic and people understand that, he said, but there must be certain filters in place when choosing clients. “I would draw a line at ads that disrespect women or a country’s culture.”
His forays into films began by writing songs for music albums. “My first album was Silk Route’s Boondein, after which I wrote for Shubha Mudgal’s Ab Ke Sawan,” he said humming a few lines from the track Seekho Na.
When actor Amitabh Bachchan heard Joshi’s lyrics for the album Mann Ke Manjheere, he recommended the lyricist to Rajkumar Santoshi and that’s how Joshi got his first break in the film Lajja.
Joshi, who has written the lyrics for many popular films like Taare Zameen Par, Dilli 6 and Hum Tum, advised the young to carefully pick their role models. “Let stars work hard to become your idols,” he said. “I am ashamed by the kind of songs that are written today,” he said, “but what shocks me further is when at birthday parties and family events, women dance to these numbers.” It is the audience who must reject bad work so that good work emerges, he said.
Reading out his poem Sharam Aa Rahi Hai Na, which he wrote after the spectacular performance of Indian women athletes at the Rio Olympics last year, Joshi said the time for change had come. “It is the women whose career gets affected but the men also equally desire being a parent. Men should get paternity leave and share responsibilities of childcare,” he said.
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