Prasoon Joshi, who was in New York recently for the world premiere of Delhi 6, admits that writing lyrics isn't the only challenge he loves while working on movies. He loves to collaborate on the scripts too, as he did with Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra's new film, and Rang De Basanti.
The 37-year-old writer is best known for his lyrics in both these films, as well as Ghajini, Taare Zameen Par and Fanaa.
Over eight years ago, he also wrote for the hit music video Mann Ke Manjeere produced for a women's advocacy group. The video has reportedly reached over 26 million households via six satellite music television channels across South Asia and North America.
"Poetry for me is something that also exists outside the film industry," he says. "I wrote poems in my teens without ever thinking of films. And that is why I continue creating non-film poems. I wrote a poem not long ago on the terrorist attacks on Mumbai, and the poet in me is always looking at the social issues."
Joshi, who grew up in Almora, now in Uttarkhand and Rampur in Uttar Pradesh, earned an MBA degree from the Institute of Management Technology in Uttar Pradesh. After working for several years for the well-known ad agency Ogilvy & Mather, he went on to become the chairman (Asia Pacific) of the highly successful McCann-Erickson.
Today he is one of the most well regarded writer in the film industry. "I love to work with him again and again," says composer A R Rahman. "I like his sensitivity and his sensibilities."
No surprise then that the ads for Delhi 6 display his name along with that of Rahman. Joshi has won most major awards for movie lyrics in India.
"I like using words that intrigue me and the listeners," he says.
Here's what else he told Arthur J Pais about the film, and working with Mehra and Rahman.
What do you enjoy most as a script collaborator?
I love giving a definite shape to a script and adding facets. I would like to do this more often though I am constrained for time.
What did you bring to Delhi 6 as a scriptwriter?
When we discussed the film, Rakesh and I felt that it was going to be more than a story of memories set in Old Delhi. We wanted to use it as a peg to tell the story of a greater India, the story of India's soul. I also created a few small but important characters. Some have remained in the film.
Is there any character we should look out for?
There is this crazy sounding character who is carrying a mirror with him. You don't get to know the significance of what he is doing till the very end. I created that character.
A good script is the backbone of any film but are there frustrations in writing a script?
[Chuckles]. You know how possessive writers are of their words. We work very hard over them. And then when it comes to editing, some of the scenes are cut, and along with them the dialogue, too. I value editing highly and I know a good editor gives a definite character to a film but I cannot help feeling that scriptwriters and editors are mortal enemies [laughs].
Did you lose a few lines of dialogue in Delhi 6?
Look, P S Bharti [the editor who also happens to be director Mehra's wife] and I are very good friends. But I cannot bear to be in the same room with her [Laughs].
What did she do to your lines?
At the beginning of the film there is a voice over which goes for about five minutes but in the movie you will hear just about a minute. But as I said before one has to acknowledge what a fine editor does to a film.
You have written many well-regarded songs. Is there any song that moves you again and again?
I cry every time I listen to Luka Chhupi from Rang De Basanti. It is not just my writing but the way the song has been composed [A R Rahman] and sung by him and Lata Mangeshkar. It was not easy creating the lyrics. Here is the mother who is at the cremation of her only child, the pilot son. The song talks of the hide and seek game he used to play when he was a child. And yet as we hear the song we know -- and she knows -- that her dead son is not going to come back.
What are some of the things you avoid while writing for the movies?
I try my best not to use the overused words such as ashique. And that is because when I grew up it was with other kind of literature. I read pure poetry and understood the importance of poetry particularly in the Indian tradition.
What did you appreciate the most?
The fact that over the centuries how story telling and poetry kept our traditions and legends alive. Literary was never high in India and it is the oral tradition that gave us a sense of continuity.
Did you ever think of writing for the movies when you grew up?
Never but I wanted to write poetry. I had a book of poetry published when I was in my teens. The film culture was never a part of my life.
What kind of cultural life did you have when you grew up?
Both my parents have doctorates in the vocal Indian classical music. So you can imagine what the atmosphere at home was.
When did poetry come into your life?
I have been a voracious reader from my childhood. And I think I have been writing ever since I remember. I was producing handwritten magazine and books when I was about ten and perhaps even earlier.
What have you taken most from your parents?
A deep love for the arts and the importance of integrity. They showed me the passion for the arts. My mother [Sushma Joshi] still records classical songs for the radio.
Was there any album or a song that brought you closer to the film industry?.
I value Mann Ke Manjeere. I wrote the lyrics to bring about more awareness to the women's rights movements in India. I almost went into a trance like state for several weeks whenever I wrote and rewrote the lyrics. It was a big challenge. I had to imagine myself to be a woman and feel deep inside my soul her feelings and aspirations. People of all walks of life liked the work. The most literary of the film-makers also heard about it.
So how did the movies come to you?
Some of the people in the film industry who cared for good literature -- and this includes Rakesh [Mehra] and Aditya Chopra had either heard of my poetry or read it. They persuaded me to write for their films.
What made you take up the offers?
It was understood I was not going to write the routine songs. It was also clear that I was not going to write anything vulgar.
Film lyrics along with film music had deteriorated considerably in the 1980s and 1990s...
It is indeed a very sad thing. I was glad that I was getting an opportunity to change a few things through my own and I was indeed lucky to work with composers who cared for good lyrics.
What is it like to work with A R Rahman?
He is very tech savvy, and that means we can communicate with each other wherever we are. It makes then for a very fruitful collaboration. He studies the theme of the film deeply and he is also very keen on doing the entire soundtrack of a film. We rarely get composers like him.
How to do you make time to write the lyrics and script?
I learned long time ago that I cannot work with film-makers who want things instantaneously. I need my own space. I am the chairman of a large advertising company and I have hundreds of people working with me. I am responsible for them. I cannot let the business suffer. At the same time I cannot be hurried and let my writing suffer. That is one of the reasons that in the past decade since I began writing for films [with Lajja as one of my earliest projects] that I have written for just about a dozen films. And right now, I have just one or two projects. I do not look for numbers. I don't want to think that I have written for over a dozen films in a year [chuckles].
How was it when you wrote a script for the first time?
It was a challenge. I was writing for Rang De Basanti by stealing time over the weekends but at one point I realised that I had to have a chunk of days to complete my work. And I had to take time off. Now, I am writing faster and yet it is time consuming. I tried to make best use of long holidays including Diwali and Christmas and spend my days and nights writing.