Passion for Advertising, Passion for Films
Prasoon Joshi’s passion for weaving words into poetry and lyrics led him to make a successful career in both advertising and Bollywood
It’s hard to fit Prasoon Joshi into a single slot. He is the CEO of McCann World group India, a subsidiary of McCann Erickson, one of the world’s leading advertising agencies, he is one of the country’s top advertising professionals. But he is also a National Award-winning lyricist, much-awarded screenwriter and poet. The Padma Shri recipient above all can be described as a creative genius.
Joshi, 44, straddles the drastically different and demanding worlds of advertising and Bollywood with the instinctive ability of a chameleon. He conceptualised some of India’s most successful ad campaigns during his formative years in advertising and eventually rose to the ranks of popularity far beyond the country. One of his ads (‘Muskura le, jagmaga le’) in the Happydent campaign was a departure from the actual client brief, but went on to win a Silver Lion at Cannes. As one of Bollywood’s most sought-after lyricists, some of Joshi’s notable works include Rang De Basanti and Taare Zameen Par. One would imagine the act of balancing these parallel careers to be a challenge, but for Joshi, a storyteller at heart, creativity knows no bounds. He has also written the screenplays for such critically acclaimed films as Bhaag Milkha Bhaag and Satyagraha.
Joshi, who grew up in Almora and other small towns in the northern heartland, was surrounded by music and poetry since his childhood. He attributes this early passion for the arts to his parents, classically trained musicians who also stressed on the importance of academic discipline. The young Joshi had easy access to libraries, thanks to his father who was an education officer. His first book of poetry ‘Main Aur Woh’ was published at the age of 17, in 1988. “I had a lot of time on my hands as a kid because there was no television or any other avenue for entertainment in smaller towns back then,” he says in an interview to Rediff.
On graduating with a BSc and completing his post-graduation in physics, Joshi enrolled in an MBA course at IMT, Ghaziabad, only because he couldn’t find it in himself to rebel against and convince his father to allow him to pursue writing for a living. But it was at this unlikely place that he found his calling when he stumbled upon the world of advertising and jingles during an internship at Trikaya Grey. As has been quoted as telling yourstory.com, “ People around you can help in sharpening your skills but you have to listen to your own calling. It should be your personal quest without any shortcuts. After that you can look for the right organization to pursue what you love.”
Joshi refused conventional jobs at campus interviews, choosing instead to fuel his passion for words by trying his hand at copywriting. At Ogilvy & Mather, when asked to submit copy for a tile company within two hours, he churned out these lines in Hindi well ahead of the deadline: “You have to be really rich to own these tiles. Rich in your imagination.” So began Joshi’s ten-year stint with O&M in Delhi, where he worked under the guidance of creative greats like Suresh Mullick and Piyush Pandey.
Joshi joined McCann-Erickson in early 2002 and rose to the post of Regional Creative Director, South and South East Asia in 2006. Besides other memorable campaigns that put the agency in the spotlight, he gave Coca-Cola the Aamir Khan-endorsed ‘Thanda Matlab Coca-Cola’ ad that won two Gold Lions at Cannes in 2003. He was soon named the executive chairman for McCann Worldgroup India & Regional Executive Creative Director (Asia Pacific).
Joshi is remarkably adept at creating an emotional connect between consumers — in both rural and urban India — and big brands. Although his ability to think in Hindi has helped him to speak the language of most Indians, Joshi puts this down to his first-hand experiences of the reality of life in India. “You have to believe that all of us are unparalleled, that we have a unique voice of our own, and we need to tap into that in order to produce authentic work,” he says in an interview to YourStory. Fundamental human emotions are the same all over the world; only expressions are different, he says, in a Rediff article.
While Joshi was getting Indians to sit up and take notice of brands, he was simultaneously making good his passion for films and poetry by making inroads into Bollywood quite early in his career. He had already written the lyrics for an album on women’s empowerment and for the debut album of Silk Route before he made the reluctant shift from Delhi to Mumbai. Once in the city of dreams, he worked on the first of many film songs to come. His first film as a lyricist was Rajkumar Satnoshi’s critically acclaimed Lajja in 2001. That led to a call from Yash Chopra and to Hum Tum, followed by acclaimed films like Rang De Basanti, Taare Zameen Par, Fanaa, Black and Delhi 6. He won the Filmfare award first for Fanaa nd then for Taare Zameen Par. The latter brought him the his first National Award, which was followed by one for the 2013 film Chittagong. His first film as a dialogue writer was Rang De Basanti.
His huge success in Bollywood has obviously resulted in big paychecks from his passion, but Joshi has continued with his simultaneous limb of the corporate ladder with McCann Erickson where he is now the Chairman for Asia Pacifci. Writing in the Mint Lounge, he strongly endorses creative cross-pollination, where working on films can result in ideas for advertisements and vice versa.
Although he had aced the art of writing dialogues and lyrics for several films, his first film as a scriptwriter was the biopic on Milkha Singh, for which he travelled to Singh’s neighbourhood to meet not only the athlete but also the people associated with him. “When writing Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, it took me two years to understand the political culture and the sports culture of that time,” he said in an interview to The Telegraph.
As an advertising industry leader and an award-winning lyricist and screenplay writer, Joshi has over 200 awards to his credit. Even the endless designations, including being a member on the Cannes jury, clearly haven’t tainted his humble and open-minded approach to life. “We will always remain works in progress, students for life because there is always a degree of separation between what you’ve written and what you’ve felt,” Joshi told Rediff.
Pic Credit: Getty