Tuesday, September 15, 2015

A Man Of Many Talents

On a recent visit to Kochi, Prasoon Joshi talks about straddling advertising and Bollywood, his encounters with Sachin Tendulkar, and his tips for youngsters

Photos by Ratheesh Sundaram: Prasoon Joshi at the Le Meridien, Kochi; in conversation with Sachin Tendulkar at the event at Kochi; with the writer 

By Shevlin Sebastian

Top advertising honcho and Bollywood writer Prasoon Joshi is tired, but elated, a few minutes after being an interlocutor during a public interaction with cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar at the Le Meridien, Kochi. This was during the silver jubilee meeting of the International Advertising Association, Indian chapter.

Whenever I meet Sachin, I always learn something,” says Prasoon. “One reason is because he has his feet firmly on the ground. And he truthfully answers the questions. Unlike many stars he never ducks difficult queries. He has the courage to be himself.”

Prasoon also had the courage to be himself. When he was growing up in Almora, Uttarkhand, he had an interest in writing poems and short stories. However, being from a middle-class family, once he finished his studies (M Sc. And MBA), he searched for a salaried job. “I knew that poetry would not fill my stomach,” he says. “But I always believed that we should do things that we are good at. Since I enjoyed writing, and realised that in advertising people would pay me money for ideas, I joined the industry.”

While he was working in advertising, Prasoon met film people who asked him whether he could write lyrics or scripts. “All this happened by accident and then I embraced it,” he says.

And this embrace has made him a success in both. Prasoon is Chairman, Asia Pacific, of the McCann World Group, as well as CEO and Chief Creative Officer of the India office. And he has made several memorable ads including the ‘Thanda Matlab' Coca Cola campaign. “That line is still alive in the minds of people,” says Prasoon.

In his lyric-writing career, he has penned the songs for films like 'Fanaa', 'Rang De Basanti', 'Taare Zameen Par', and the iconic 'Baag Milkha Baag', for which he wrote the story, screenplay and dialogues. Prasoon has won National Awards for his lyric writing as well as a Padma Shri for Field Art in 2015. And in 2014, Prasoon became the first Asian to be the Chairman of the Cannes Titanium Jury.

As a result, he is a keen judge of national and international advertising talent. “We don't have any dearth of talent, but advertising is a Western concept,” says Prasoon. “We did not have a culture of branding. We are strong in spirituality. We have invested in the mind, and in trying to understand the meaning of life. Buddha was not built up as a brand. We believe in the organic development of things. We did not believe something has to be masterminded or controlled. It is a Western phenomenon.”

Nevertheless, being at the helm of the advertising industry has given Prasoon a keen insight about the trends these days. “We live in a distracted world,” says Prasoon. “People are spoilt for choices. They can go out and eat, or go to YouTube and watch something or see TV. Meanwhile, everybody wants their attention. So, it has become a huge challenge for advertising to hold the attention of the consumer.”

It is also a challenge for Prasoon to straddle both the advertising and film writing worlds. But he says that they are similar. “Both have ideas at the core,” he says. “Ads are short stories, too. However, the time you get in advertising is far less than what you get in a film. You have to be on air in two months. And it is also short-lived.”

On the other hand, for the script of 'Baag', Prasoon took two years to write it. “I had to do a lot of research,” he says. “Plus, I had limited time every day to write.”

When asked about his insights into Bollywood, Prasoon says that many superstars have a difficult time to stay connected to reality. “When they see themselves in the mirror they know that they have two eyes, a nose, lips and a mouth,” he says. “But when they step out in public, people come flocking towards them. So they think, 'There must be something unusual about me. Am I God? Maybe I am God?'.”

Prasoon has seen many people, like that. “If you disagree with them, they will say, 'What I am saying is right'. If you say, 'Why is it right?” they will reply, 'Because I am saying it'. People forget their roots. They forget they are mortals. They believe that they are the centre of the universe. When that happens, their relationship with people gets damaged. And they end up becoming a caricature of themselves.”

Prasoon’s conversation is peppered with insights like this. And his tips to youngsters who are setting out are also unique. “Be authentic,” he says. “Be what you are. You are unparalleled. You cannot model yourself on anybody. You have to find your true self, but to discover that you will have to go through a state of confusion. Confusion is the first step to clarity. Don’t be scared of it.”

And here's another tip: “It is very important to hone your talent. Because when the opportunity comes, there is no time to practise. You have to do your riyaz earlier. In one of Iqbal’s poems, he talks about a falcon which catches a prey, takes it up, and then drops it. Why does the falcon do that? That is a way of practising. So, when it becomes hungry, it does not make a mistake. Similarly, you have to be ready when the chance arrives.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

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