Chit Chat

Knowing Aamir more makes you believe in him more: Prasoon Joshi

Prasoon Joshi, 43, will always be indebted to advertising for not only giving him his wife Aparna and supporting him financially, but also for giving him the luxury to continue writing poetry. His biggest inspirations are his nani and his eight-year-old daughter Aishaanya. Ahead of ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’, the first film for which he has written the story, screenplay and dialogues, he speaks to TOI about the fairness of Aamir Khan, what makes him different from Piyush Pandey and why he apologised to Milkha Singh’s wife. Excerpts:

How did poetry happen to you?
I was born and brought up in a small mountain town of Almora in Uttarakhand. People would not even lock their houses and would trust humanity. I lived amidst nature and always ate this wild fruit called kafal. The fruit was getting extinct and there was no reason for anyone to save it. But those are the ways of nature, where it tells you, through murmurs, if you want to listen. Today, it is shouting out loud. But when the kafal was disappearing, no one heard it. I could hear it as every time I went back, I had memories of my parents plucking kafals for me. My nani, who lived in Uttarakhand all her life, was the one who inspired me the most. She became a widow at 19, was an illiterate village woman with my mother, her only daughter. To bring her up, she went to school in a white sari after losing her husband, after which she got herself a job as a teacher and finally retired as the school’s principal. She had a lot of character and unconditional love for me, but died eight years back. My mother is an A-grade singer and sang for All India Radio and was a teacher at a college. She also writes in Pahadi and has recently written a book. Her father’s cousin was Sumitranandan Pant and we always had his books in our house. My father later became the Director of Education and moved to Meerut, where we lived in a beautiful house, called the principal’s residence, at Begum Bridge. The library was next door and the keys would come to our house every night. I would open it every night and just read. I grew up reading a lot of poetry and published my first book of poetry at 17. I always had a great desire to express myself, but was too sensitive to rebel against my father to choose writing as a career. Early enough, I knew that I could not make a living through poetry and that kavita mujhe nahi paal sakti, mujhe kavita ko palna hai. People love poetry, but they think it should be free like fresh air and water.

How did you come into advertising?
I got admission into a marketing management course at IMT Ghaziabad. I am glad I went there otherwise I would not have stumbled upon advertising. I did my summer training at one of the hottest creative shops, Trikaya Grey. I started going to the creative department instinctively and they discovered that I could actually write jingles. So I started getting work and paid my entire second year of MBA education at IMT with the money I made through writing jingles over the weekend. I realised that advertising would help me use my creative talent along with my marketing education and joined O&M as my first job. I also had another USP. I could understand grassroot language. So, I was in huge demand as I was a person who knew Hindi but could sell to clients in English. I was lucky to have found my first guru Suresh Mallick, who had created Mile Sur Mera Tumhara (he was Piyush Pandey’s boss at that time). He treated me like a son and taught me right from how to sniff wine to use my classical side to my advantage in advertising. I used to literally sit at his feet and learn. And then Piyush taught me street metaphors and language. The combination of these two people groomed me. Finally, Neil French, who was the grandfather of advertising, taught me the craft of writing.

Piyush Pandey is a patriarchal person. Having groomed you, was it difficult for him to accept you as a competitor?
Yes, it was difficult for him initially. Let’s not forget, we are from two different generations. It’s not easy for anyone to accept that. We have strong opinions and agree to disagree, but he will always remain a big brother to me. He is extremely hard working and I have learnt a lot from watching him. He knows that I am different from him as a person. While we are both small- town Hindi-speaking middle-class boys who love our culture, I am more into music and poetry than he is. My need for space and silence and time of my own is more than his. He, in contrast, always wants more and more people around him. He is a patriarch. I have no ego when it comes to accepting women as equals and in fact, find women more mature than men. We have now come a full circle and with time, we are only getting closer.

How did films happen?
I had written for a number of music albums with Shubha Mudgal (Ab Ke Saawan and Mann Ke Manjeere) in Delhi. Mr Bachchan heard a song called Matti from the album and wrote a letter to me. He then told Raj Kumar Santoshi about me and I wrote my first lyrics for his title track in Lajja. I then met Adi Chopra at an airport and something clicked between us and he asked me to write the lyrics for Hum Tum.

Aamir Khan and you are friends. What is he like?
I have seen him in all kinds of situations and the biggest thing about him is his fairness and his transparency. He will care for the brands he is working on and will volunteer to give that extra half- day if he feels it is required. He chooses few brands, but is more involved. He will not agree to be a part of something unless he is not convinced and is as intense about his ads as he is about films. Knowing Aamir more makes you believe in him more. He exposes the worst in front of you, he will tell you where he has made mistakes and he is transparent. He can spend an entire party in a corner with just one person and dives deep into anything he does.

Do you have a favourite music director?
Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy. For me, it is most easy to work with Shankar. We have similar advertising backgrounds and he is extremely approachable. With AR Rahman, it’s a spiritual connection and he lands up opening another window in me and that’s how we landed up making a song like Arziyaan.

Is there any other lyricist you respect?
I grew up reading Gulzar sahab’s poetry. There is no reason for people like me to come and write for films if people like him were not there. He is a beautiful writer and is like a safed moti. I always say that ‘Mumbai ko kai cheezon ke bavajood maaf kar deta hoon kyunki wahan Gulzar sahab rehte hain.’

Talk about your experience of working on Bhaag Milkha Bhaag?
I was instinctively drawn to Milkha Singh and his life when I met him. He is very straightforward and proud of himself. He hugely believes in hard work and cares a lot about sports. He would like people to be drawn to athletics by seeing his story. He howled after watching the film. I touched his feet and he kissed me on my forehead and said, ‘Kamaal kar diya aapne, aapne to rula diya.’ He also cares a lot about his wife Nimmiji who fought for her life a month back and watched the film on a wheelchair. She was so happy seeing the film and blessed me a lot. I was feeling bad as I had written love songs on two other women in his life, but not on her. I apologised to her and told her that the film stops at a certain juncture in his life and therefore, I could not include her in the story though I wish I could have. She was a basketball player and he had fallen in love with her. They are a beautiful couple and I felt sensitive towards her and wished I had written for her. I hugely believe in longevity in relationships. There can be many reasons to break a relationship. But you can also find thousands to remain in one. One life is not enough to know a person.

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