‘I’m never the same man'
Prasoon Joshi is going to be in Cannes next month — this time to chair the jury that will sit on judgement on outdoor advertising, writes Sushmita Bose.india Updated: May 30, 2008 23:09 IST
Oh, all right, Prasoon Joshi is going to be in Cannes next month — this time to chair the jury that will sit on judgement on outdoor advertising. And yes, he will be the third Asian (after Piyush Pandey and David Guerrero) to head a jury in Cannes.
But all this — along with how his is the classic case of small-town-boy-making-it-big-in-new-age-India and how he chucked his MBA degree in order to get creative — has been doing the rounds: on television, on the Internet, in newspapers.
Tell me something new.
How about, he offers, “You’ll never meet the same Prasoon twice… I’m constantly growing… changing… I’m in transit.”
Not bad, I tell the man with the super-long designation: executive chairman & regional executive creative director, Asia-Pacific, McCann Worldgroup. But, first, we just have to talk conventional wisdom. Here goes: how does it feel chairing a jury at Cannes? “It’s a chance to tell the global audience about India at advertising’s most celebrated forum,” pat comes the reply. “The world has to move beyond looking at us as being (a) a market, (b) an outsourcing hub, and (c) a spiritual-recreational centre.” India should be recognised for its thought leadership — which, peculiarly enough, stems from conflict. “We are a nation in churn, the best creativity emerges out of chaos; therefore, we are thinkers.”
Some more conventional wisdom. “I had a wonderful childhood, grew up surrounded by nature — but I don’t understand why people think coming from a small town is such a big deal.” Anyhow, in the small-town phase of his life, Prasoon hung out “on treetops and in forests” and never had to play in the car park like the kids in his building in Bombay do.
Has anybody asked you, I ask him, if he wants to retire to a small town?
“Come to think of it,” he says, “nobody has.”
But then, he doesn’t quite know if he wants to go back to a small-town. He has, he says, an inverted sense of rootlessness. “I was passing by my old house with my wife a few days ago, and she asked me if I felt like going inside — to revisit. I didn’t want to — because only the memories matter, not the place, and the memories I carry with me.”
Having said that, he concedes that when he was offered a posting in Singapore, he actually baulked. “It’s too safe, too organised, it’s too much of a good thing.” Bombay is chaotic, frenzied, frustrating. His expressions, he says, are the result of frustrations, and the struggle for survival. Being in Bombay helps.
The pushes and pulls ensure he doesn’t work towards any one goal; the goalpost is always shifting. “People always ask me about my defining moment. All I can say is that the defining moment for the Thanda matlab Coca-Cola campaign, for instance, came at the Hapur railway station (where he saw a man sleeping peacefully in a sheltered corner, even as the sun beat down mercilessly elsewhere). But I can never have one defining moment.”
His basic instinct is still to write poetry. His film lyrics, probably closer to writing poetry than copywriting, he says, “are for himself”.
I tell him how we read media reports about mothers calling and telling him they’d been moved to tears when they heard Maa (from Taare Zameen Par). “Sometime back, I was coming out of the Taj Land’s End (in Bombay), and an 80-year-old man hugged me… It was very emotional. He told me he was 80, but that he still misses his mom. Listening to Maa made him feel like a child.” That touched him deeply. “Otherwise, I don’t take myself too seriously; external validation does not matter.”
What about awards? They don’t matter?
“I’ll be honest,” he smiles. “It feels good to be recognised, but the pleasure is momentary. I write, create for myself.”
Will he be the same Prasoon next time we meet? “You never know,” he grins. “I could be anything, anywhere… on the moon perhaps. But there are two things I know I can never do: play cricket and dance.” That’s some kind of almost uncanny certitude from a man who claims he’s “always in transit”.
“Remember, I wasn’t talking to you,” is what Prasoon says as it’s time for him to move on. “I was talking to myself.”
In other words, says the expert copywriter, “We had conversations with ourselves.” Not with each other.
No, it wasn’t a dangling conversation.