Poet-songwriter-scriptwriter Prasoon Joshi talks of growing up with trust, in the mountains, and how he draws from that life while writing. He tells Bhumika K. the leitmotif of sunshine in his works comes from there
If the earth revolves around the sun so does Prasoon Joshi’s recurring metaphor. It’s that uncomplicated, the association. The adman-lyricist has used it to brilliant effect, be it in popular advertisements or Hindi film songs. His strength has been in evoking many images with it — be it of hope, of tapping into one’s inner potential, of feeling empowered…
The Coca-Cola advertisement “Ummeedon waali dhoop”, film songs “Tu dhoop hai cham se bikhar” from Taare Zameen Par and, “Roobaroo roshni” from Rang De Basanti are just some works that stand testimony to it. His book Sunshine Lanes: A Poetic Journey is another giveaway.
His explanation is as poetic as his works: “While I was writing my book I realised I’ve been using the expression of sunlight many number of times… because if you’ve grown in the mountains as a child, you know the impact of light and shade, and sunshine. Our whole life revolves around how the sun moves. Even your grandmother’s khatia or bed that she sunbathes on, moves with the sunlight…and it stays in your subconscious.” Prasoon believes he owes a lot of his ideas to that childhood in the hills of Uttarakhand, whether he’s writing copy for ads, or songs for films.
Speaking on the sidelines of the Bangalore Literature Festival held recently, Prasoon went into the intricacies of the world of writing. The source for both kinds of writing, he said, were the same – “they both have pourings from life – from folk culture, literature. Whether it is advertising or films, we borrow from life, we manifest what we absorb. It could be the influence I had as a child in Uttarakhand, where I was born, the language there, which is Pahadi, the interaction with nature I had. Nature definitely toughens you. It also makes you honest. Because nature never manipulates. A river always stays a river; it doesn’t suddenly becomes a mountain. When a child is growing up, you see humans manipulate. I grew up with the ultimate trust.” It’s this deeply entrenched trust, this bonding with nature, and simplicity of life in the hills that shines through in his evocative poetry. “I don’t see writing for the two of them differently. Whether I write the Coca-Cola ad, Happy Dent, or Chloromint ad – they are all short stories and haiku for me.” And, he adds, it’s no different when he’s writing the script for a film like Bhaag Milkha Bhaag.
Prasoon has been a prolific writer, and hasn’t limited himself to writing songs just for films. He’s created several public service campaigns for HIV, polio, national literacy. He’s penned poems in response to the Mumbai terrorist attacks. Poetry comes as a natural form of expression for anything he has to comment on in the world around him. “Whatever happens in the country that affects me, I write about it. That’s my poetry. My latest work was on the natural calamity in Uttarakhand. There I have freedom to express myself…” he trails off, talking of the constraints and challenges of working within the framework of a film.
The national-award winning songwriter who has been penning songs for over a decade, Prasoon is credited with bringing back to Hindi cinema the sheer beauty of poetry in its songs. He’s also largely acknowledged for bringing back the literary idiom in film song writing and bridging it with popular culture much like earlier poet-songwriters like Kaifi Azmi or Sahir Ludhianvi did; so much so he’s considered an heir to Gulzar’s throne now.
But in today’s world of fast and modern cinema, the very presence or need of songs is being questioned by some. Prasoon is very passionate in his defence of the place of songs in our life. “Songs are very important for us. They coexist with our films. In the west, the music industry is separate. We have found a unique way of making songs part of a narrative. And they add another dimension to the cinematic experience. If you take the songs away, the soul is missing. There is nothing right or wrong in the creative process. Cultures develop in a unique way and that’s what makes them beautiful. My biggest worry for the modern world which is so connected — and the market, which is in a hurry to create a uniform culture so that a product can be sold everywhere — is that we are moving towards a standardisation of the world. How ugly the world would be if you get off the plane and realise it’s all the same and just the name of the city has changed. I would like to taste different cuisines, hear different music…Our world is beautiful because there’s diversity.”
He believes that songs are a sign of the excessive. “When you have excessive love in you, you cannot just say it in dialogue; you have to sing!” Our songs can’t be written off as “just song-and-dance” he stresses. Nowhere else in the world will you find a culture of poets writing for pop culture, he points out. Poets kept literature alive in our cinema. “So the songs of our cinema, specially the lyrical part, has been of very high poetic order. That’s why I take serious objection to people who say that it’s just song and dance. They are not. They are poetry.” If someone wants to use a song he should not be made to feel inferior or incorrect and tribal for doing that, says Prasoon. “There shouldn’t be any condescension. I’m against that. I have no problem with judiciously using or not using songs.”