Pursuit of Happiness

Soul Stirrer

Be it ads, lyrics or scripts, McCann Worldgroup Asia-Pacific chairman Prasoon Joshi seamlessly weaves magic with his words

Dekho inhein yeh hain os ki boondein,

Patto ki godh mein aasmaan se kude

Angdaayi le ke phir karwat badal kar,

Nazuk se moti hasde fisal kar

Kho na jaaye yeh,

Taare zameen par

“My daughter was two-years-old then, I didn’t have to look elsewhere for inspiration. I was writing exactly what I was seeing,” says Prasoon Joshi on the soul-stirring lyrics for Taare Zameen Par, which won him his first National Award. From there to winning the Padma Shri, India's fourth highest civilian honour in 2015, Joshi’s web of words has only grown.  

The chairman of McCann Worldgroup Asia-Pacific, of course, dons many hats; being a lyricist is just one of them. When he is not penning award-winning campaigns for the likes of Coca-Cola and Happydent (both won Cannes Lions), Joshi is either writing a film script or putting down his thoughts in a diary, in the form that appeals to him most, through poetry.

The ad guru, who has four books to his name so far, says his first tryst with poetry happened when he was just 17.  He was so astounded by German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche’s idea that ‘God is dead’ in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, that it led to his first book. Hailing from Uttarakhand, which is known for its pilgrimage sites, the book, he says, led to many internal debates, which formed the basis of Main Aur Woh. After Nietzsche, Joshi ended up exploring the works of Russian political activist Maxim Gorky and celebrated Pakistani writer, Saadat Hasan Manto besides the works of Hindi poets like Tulsidas, Surdas and Suryakanth Tripathi ‘Nirala’.

All these books were part of the renowned Rampur Raza Library. Being the son of the district school inspector had its perks, he says. It meant the keys to this treasure house came home every night, providing Joshi with his “default source of entertainment.” then. “I would go open the doors to the library at 11 in the night and read for a couple of hours. Khaali library thi, seedi lagao and pick any book you want,” he reminisces. Back home, he would put down verses or sit with the harmonium and create a new composition to present to his mother, a trained classical vocalist herself. “I would read out my poems and she would give me feedback on how I could make it better. I was always writing for myself, nobody had asked me to do that.” That’s true till date, shares Joshi, adding how he picks up his diary every night after work to write something for himself. Sometimes, it might take two years, which is the amount of time Joshi took to perfect the storyline for the biopic on former athlete Milkha Singh.  

How does Joshi juggle the different subjects and balance his personal writing with his work? “In that case, advertising comes in handy. First, a team comes to me talking about an effervescent drink; the next team will ask me to create a social awareness campaign on HIV. So, I’m used to switching gears now,” says the writer. When it comes to inspiration, Joshi believes in "going out and looking for inspiration in daily lives." He says, "Ideas are all around us,” pointing to the framed portraits of a Coca-Cola ad campaign that depicts scenes from the daily life of a common man. “The problem is when the subject is not interesting. Sometimes, people come to me and say ‘inspire’. That can be a challenge at times.”

Joshi, who was raised surrounded by the quiet hills of Almora in North India, still heads to the mountains when he’s looking for solace. There is one particular spot, he says, a huge rock that hugs the Kasar Devi temple in the quaint village where he always sits, lost in his thoughts and scribbling into his diary.

Far from that solace, as of now, the ad man is working even on the weekends on his hobby, which he admits takes a toll on his personal life. But not wanting to live with regrets keeps him going, he says. With four volumes of poems already published, what is Joshi working on? “I want to do some TV now.” A series penned by the wordsmith will thus be gracing television screens soon.