Prasoon Joshi in conversation with Puneeta Roy
Presented by Bhaskar Bhasha Series
By Sitamsini, Official ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival Blogger
Prasoon Joshi defies categorization: an award-winning lyricist, a poet, an advertising executive who has won numerous awards in each of the fields he works in. In an insightful session at the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival, Joshi talked about the trajectory of his career and the position of art in today’s society.
‘What gives meaning to life can’t be peddled as a product,’ he said, referring to poetry and people’s hesitancy to pay for it. Yuva Ekta Foundation trustee Puneeta Roy enquired what that said about his advertising career, to which Joshi replied, ‘There is a transparency to advertising: it never tries to hide its intent. But look at the media instead, who in the name of news, print paid things.’
His ad-campaigns include the Cannes award-winning Thanda Matlab Coca-Cola (Chilled means Coca-Cola), which was voted as one of the 20 best advertisements of the 21st century on a Gunn Report poll. The secret, according to Joshi, is to ‘give an emotional connection to something that is very physical.’ He maintains that ads work on hyperbole, adding that one must not underestimate the imagination of people: ‘One must have fun with it, and people will understand.’
‘You draw a picture in the mind of the consumer that this is not merely a product but an emotion. Nobody consumes a product alone.’ One of the reasons for his acclaim as an advertiser lies in his history of writing poetry. ‘Poetry is an eye,’ he said, ‘There’s poetry in a swimmer’s body, in a painting…’ This poet’s eye has enabled him to create ad-campaigns that have touched people from all over the nation. When asked about the ethics of advertising products that may have a harmful effect on society, such as fairness creams or tobacco, Joshi readily agreed that ‘various filters should be applied’ when it comes to what is advertised, but maintained that sometimes, it can be difficult for a single person to halt an enormous campaign by themselves.
The moral imbalances one can sometimes see in advertising is also a prominent feature of Bollywood. Joshi remarked on his ‘disappointment’ with the Bollywood songs that demean women. He added that he was just as disappointed with ordinary people normalising these songs by dancing to them or singing them. ‘The audience has to reject bad work so that good work can be promoted’.
The songs he wrote for award-winning movies like Black and Taare Zameen Par have brought him much acclaim, but not all responses have been positive. The song Maa, for which he won the Filmfare Best Lyricist Award, garnered criticism from a surprising arena: ‘I got a lot of hate mails from males, post my song Maa,’ he said. ‘I am not against fathers; I am for mothers.’ Joshi added that he hated the way society places the burden of raising a child on the mother: ‘Fathers should be held equally responsible.’
After he recited a few lines from his song Haan maine chookar dekha hain (Yes I have Seen Through my Touch), written from the perspective of a girl with visual and hearing impairments for the movie Black, Joshi emphasised the importance of finding beauty in the mundane. ‘Loudspeakers should be removed, for the sound of a flute dies in the noise of a loudspeaker,’ he reflected, to thunderous applause.
Photo Credit: Chetan Singh Gill