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Ad guru Joshi acts local to go global

Prasoon Joshi of McCannWorldgroup says he has tried to tap into the classical rural traditions of India, reports N Madhavan.
Hindustan Times | By Narayanan Madhavan, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JUL 23, 2007 04:58 PM IST

If there was proof needed, two-way globalisation has well and truly arrived in advertising.

The terrible infant of the country's hyperactive creative directors, who first shot to fame by helping Coke fan out into small-town India, believes the time has come for India to take on the world on its own terms in the business long associated with Western themes and aspirations.

And parodying his slogan, "Thanda matlab Coca-Cola," (A cold drink means Coke) you could spin a line on the executive chairman and regional creative director (south & south-east Asia) of McCannWorldgroup: "Funda matlab Prasoon Joshi."

The 37-year-old, bespectacled Joshi is gloating with the four Lions that McCann's Indian unit won at the global advertising pilgrimage in Cannes this year, and is particularly happy that the Happydent commercial that features a maharaja's court illumined by gleaming teeth is being well complemented by Sufi-style music that carries the message of universal, divine light everywhere, "Tan roshan, man roshan."

"For the first time, an Indian advertisement's music has been recognised at this level," Joshi, who is on the global creative board of McCann Erickson, told Hindustan Times.

"They have started accepting the kind of mind we have in advertising."

Trained in Hindustani classical music, Joshi grew up in small town of Uttar Pradesh with strict parents who banned the film and pop stuff until he was a teenager. Somewhere, he managed to connect the dots of his roots with the shoots of globalisation.

"At times, cultural pride becomes a handicap. We don't have to be insular," says Joshi, who cut his teeth with Ogilvy's creative veteran Piyush Pandey, picking up the threads of an Indian idiom in a me-too ad world before building his own ideas that connected the seemingly unconnected.

Global confectioner Perfetti thrives in India on Joshi's ideas that include a near-impossible mix between Bhojpuri and Italian with catch lines like, "Alpenliebe, zara idhar deebey!"

Joshi says India has its own storytelling tradition, reflected best in Bollywood-style narratives and theatrical traditions that deserve their own place in the global milieu. He is quick to acknowledge the likes of R "Balki" Balakrishnan, Lowe's creative chief, for all-Indian slogans like "Hamara Bajaj" but affirms his own signature style that relies on melodrama, verbal tang and music.

"The Indian narrative is layered. The how is more important than the what of the story," he says. "And I have tried to tap into the classical rural traditions of this country."

For all that, Joshi is happy to sit on the international jury in places like Cannes and New York and in brainstorming ideas with creative colleagues from elsewhere in Asia. He takes inspiration from Indian classical musicians jamming with world music leaders, than local hip-hop artistes.

"I would rather have Ravi Shankar jam than a coroner from South Bombay who sings cover versions of Paul Simon or Bob Dylan," he says.

Writing lyrics for Bollywood songs on the side, the man whose career graph coincided with the rise of private television in India is now mapping the art of storytelling for a global digital world. As a Net and gadget freak, he has his own property on Second Life (, the Internet site where fantasies are created and sold like real estate.

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