At the Jaipur Literature Festival 2017, poet-lyricist Prasoon Joshi spoke to HT about his childhood spent in libraries, why the Indian education system needs overhauling and the new web series that he is co-producing with Neerja director Ram Madhvani.
At your session ‘Ideate: Freedom to Dream’, you spoke about your childhood in Almora (Uttarakhand). Who were the poets and writers you grew up reading?
Not in Almora but later on, my father, he was part of the education department in Rampur (UP), and the libraries came under him. So I had access to the library even on Sundays. I read all sort of books starting from Indian literature, mythology, regional literature in translation, Czech writers, Russian writers, Bengali literature, anything and everything that I could lay my hands on. I read Manto at age 14. My parents were not very interested in writing, but were deeply into music, having done their Master’s in classical music. The atmosphere at home encouraged free thinking where I could search for my own identity and what I wanted to do. I think that is most important. It is very unfortunate when parents burden their children with their unfulfilled dreams.
You also spoke about how kids who can think innovatively are going to do well in the future; and how the current education system kills the imagination of children. Please elaborate.
The current education system heavily relies on competitively scoring marks. Students take tuitions to pre-empt 20-30 questions that will be asked in an exam, and not understand the subject. The fear and pressure to cram up information ruined the joy of learning. We’ve seen that suicide rates have gone up and kids are not able to cope with that pressure. It is not that we don’t want to make our kids competitive, it is about how they are consuming information. More important than remembering everything, is the application of knowledge. Education should guide students towards use and application of that knowledge in life.
Watch: In conversation with lyricist Prasoon Joshi
In your session you also spoke about how the audience should reject bad poetry so that good work comes out. In Bollywood today, there are a lot of remixes of old popular numbers. Do you think there is a void in terms of talent?
I don’t think talent is missing, what is missing is that people who become the mai-baaps of the industry probably do not care for music in the manner art should be cared for. I disagree with a lot of work which is done. A lot of work is fantastic but most of it is not what is used to be earlier. People say you keep talking about the past and all that, but that you have to because we’re not moving up. There are not enough attempts to improve craft: people don’t care about grammar, the cadence. Poetry and music are things that people are not necessarily educated about. It is something they gradually learn and it is the responsibility of popular art. Especially since in our country, popular art as songs is the only means of survival for poetry and music. That is not an ideal state. I think a parallel music industry should exist as a powerful industry, which it is not at present. We’re part of the film industry and in that if people who are creators don’t care about poetry and music, and go about with a ‘jo bikta hai woh tikta hai’ attitude, then that would be great injustice to the art form.
You’re also working on a web series with Ram Madhvani called Bodhi Dharma. Could you tell us a little more about that?
Ram and I go a long way. We worked in advertising, we did a lot of ad films together. So we came together for this project. We’re co-producing a series called Bodhi Dharma. Not much is available about the warrior’s past because the story is thousands of years old. The thing which interested me is that an Indian went to China and founded a martial art. We’ve just announced it.
Which Bollywood film in the year gone by has been your favourite in terms of its songs?
To be honest, musically I have not found a feast. I haven’t found one single album which I can call a complete album.
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