Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 10, Dated Mar 15, 2008
|CULTURE & SOCIETY
is for lazy people, poetry for the imaginative’
Poet and Cannes
Award-winning advertising professional, Prasoon Joshi is one of Bollywood’s most interesting lyricists. Recent recipient
of a Filmfare Best Lyricist Award for his work in Taare Zameen Par, he
talks to Guru Dutt’s grandniece, filmmaker NASREEN MUNNI KABIR
How do ideas
for a song come to you?
We donít choose ideas. Ideas choose us. We canít grab a thought. A thought
grabs us. You have to be receptive, ready to receive thoughts. What is
a state of readiness? For me, I think itís being immersed in a film. When
Iím actually writing, it comes very quickly. Before that, itís a terrible
process. For example, there are two kinds of mangoes. The kind you pluck
and then you wait till it ripens. And the kind that is ripe and falls
on you ó a tapke (just landed). They are the sweetest kind because
nature is ready to offer it to you, while the others are premature. Songs
are like that. Some just fall out of your imagination.
Do you have
any say in determining the song situation?
Iím lucky to work with people who sometimes allow me to create situations
for songs. In Rang de Basanti there was no place for the song,
ďLukka chuppi.Ē The scene is a sonís funeral and his mother experiencing
a terrible loss. Rahman and I used the idea of a mother and son playing
hide-and-seek. The sad reality is the son is hidden forever. Sometimes
an emotion expressed in a song works much better than dialogue. When I
feel strongly about it, I try and suggest enhancing the scene with a song.
I believe in the power of songs.
Have you ever
written a song for one situation and then itís been used in another?
Yes. I wrote the song ďMausam ka hai mehmaan tu,Ē in Taare
Zameen Par for the scene when the child runs out of his school. But
Aamir wasnít completely convinced it was the right song for that situation,
so he decided to use it for the filmís climax. I didnít write the song
for the ending, but it fits well there because the essence remains intact.
Are you and
the composer left alone when youíre writing?
Once weíre through with the narration and discussion, then itís down to
the music director and me. Sometimes the director is around and sometimes
he isnít. I think musicians and poets want to be left alone because youíre
experimenting with words and jamming. I have worked with Shankar, Ehsaan
and Loy in Phir Milenge and Taare Zameen Par, and have
known Shankar for a long time. We were in advertising together. Heís very
flexible. If thereís a particular word that doesnít fit the tune, I tell
him: No, I need this word. Itís important. Itís like a paperweight, if
you remove it, everything will fly away. And Shankar finds a way to make
the word work in the composition. I have also worked with Jatin and Lalit,
who belong to an older generation and have a more traditional style of
How do you
define this style?
Their songs are usually composed as one beautiful piece. The melody flows
through the antara and from the antara to the mukhda.
The composition is a complete structure ó from the beginning to the end.
So I get a defined whole and then write the words. Sometimes I give them
the lyrics first and then the tune is composed. When I work with AR Rahman,
itís quite different. We interact a lot. He might compose just a musical
phrase, and I think of two words, say ĎRoobaroo roshni.í Later
I write the full song and Rahman composes the complete tune.
of ĎRoobarooí are unusual, there are no verbs in the line. You donít say
Ďmain roobaroo hoon roshni keí (I am face to face with the light)
(Smiles) Few notice this. I believe people are very comfortable
with the unspoken. When youíre writing a song you complete a circle,you
express everything you want to say. The finest creativity is when you
draw a dot and yet everyone can see the circle. If you allow the listeners
to participate, they will complete the thought.
observed Rahman working, he builds the song sound by sound. His songs
remind me of seeing light seep through a crack in the window, and when
you open the window, there, bathed in light, is an expansive vista. ĎRoobarooí
reveals itself in that way. What about ĎKhalbali hai Khabalií with the
insistence on the word Ďziddií?
I was at Rahmanís studio writing some words. I gave them to him and he
said: Letís try something else. So I replied, Ziddi Rahman! (Stubborn
Rahman) and he said, Yes! Thatís the word. Ziddi. And the song
line became Ziddi, ziddi, hain armanÖí
at its best! Do you try and use the integrate the song into the narrative?
If you asked me to rate a song like ďChand SifarishĒ, Iíd tell
you itís nice and fun. If you asked whether it worked in Fanaa, Iíd
say that it worked fantastically well. It perfectly suited Aamir Khanís
character. You want to write songs to fit a particular person. This one
had the touch of an arrogant, street-smart man. The metaphor of the moon
is used so often, but I tried imagining the moon as an advocate: Chand
sifarish jo karta humaari deta woh tumko bataa Sharmo haiyya ke parde
giraake karni hai humko khata (If the moon played my advocate heíd
tell you/ That I want to commit a sweet mistake/ By breaking rules, abandoning
filmic situations do you enjoy writing?
I like writing songs featured in the background. What is happening in
the mind of the character, but heís unable to express. I give voice to
his thinking and inner feelings. When a song is lipsynched, there are
Is it important
for you to know the scene leading into a song and the scene following
Itís important to understand the overall context and then forget it. The
mind has absorbed the essential. If you continue to refer to the lead-in
situation, you start to mirror it, whereas your song must add another
dimension to the narrative. In Taare Zameen Par, a mother is
leaving her child at boarding school. The child looks at her and she has
tears in her eyes. Do I give voice to the childís emotions or to the motherís?
I could say, Tu mujhe bahut pyaara hai, meri aankhon ka taara hai
(How dear you are to me, youíre the star in my eye). But these feelings
are implicit in the scene. So I decided to give voice to the unspoken
fears of the child who feels abandoned: Main kabhi batlaata nahin,
par andhere se darta hoon, Ma (I have never told you but Iím scared
of the dark, Ma).
really moved people.
My mailbox crashed because of the kind of response I got!
Why did it
move so many?
Thereís a parent and child in everyone. A child craves for a motherís
touch all through her life. The relationship has an intrinsically potent
and sharply defined emotion. Motherhood is glorified to put pressure on
women to become mothers and find fulfillment in that alone. But thereís
so much more to a woman. When youíre in pain, you cry out, Ma.
In the ďMaĒ song, thereís a bit of the story of Taare Zameen
Par and a lot of me too.
of upbringing did you have?
I was brought up in a small town. and have always been connected to Hindi
and Urdu. No word of English was spoken. I lived in UP and in Uttaranchal
where I was born ó in Almora. I had a very freespirited childhood. When
you live in the mountains, thereís a real sense of trust. You love nature.
When I was doing my MBA I started attentively listening to rock lyrics.
In the 70s and 80s, there was a lot of good songwriting. I liked Paul
Simon, the Rolling Stones, Jim Morrison. I tried jazz lyrics but found
them too simple. I think hip-hop music is important too ó itís honest,
in your face.
Hindi film songs?
Itís strange but I wasnít fond of the old songs. I come from a family
where classical music was preferred. Both my parents were vocal artists.
Of course, I like the old poet-lyricists, particularly Kaifi Azmi. I like
Shailendraís lyricism. His songs can be easily hummed, are fluid and flexible.
I listen to ghazals, semi-classical music and to poets like Azmi, Shailendra
and Majrooh Sultanpuri reciting their verse. I like hearing poetry in
a poetís own voice. It has something a singer or composer canít get.
You work in
advertising as well as writing lyrics and poetry. Do you see a conflict
in balancing these different worlds?
I became a poet first and then an advertising professional. So the problem
was coping with advertising rather than with poetry. Poetry is in every
drop of my blood. If you wake me up in the morning, you may not manage
to make me instantly do an ad, but you can get me to write a poem at once.
But I enjoy the corporate world tremendously too. I donít really enjoy
stiff, formal boardroom meetings. Maybe because I believe in connecting
with people one-to-one. But advertising taught me clarity of intention,
and that influenced my poetry. Saying something unless itís understood
does not satisfy me.
How does poetry
express thought better than prose?
Through its economy. Take this example: Navak andaz jidhar deeda-e
jana honge/ Neem bismil kai honge kai bajan honge (Wherever the eyes
of my beloved fall/ Some are wounded, others slain).
The idea is so precise.
If you had to explain this in prose, you would have to write an entire
page. And prose allows less participation. Why do you think prose is more
loved? Because prose is for lazy people. Poetry is for people with a fertile
imagination. Itís like a buffet. You must serve yourself because the meal
will not be served at your table. Itís a pity we have mostly lost the
passion for poetry.
do the same?
Music is like a container but the content is poetry. I tell musicians,
Sharab pahaunchhaa te aap hain, lekin sharab banaa te hum hain. (You
deliver the wine, but we are the ones who make it.)
Is there an
aura around creativity that makes you comfortable or uncomfortable?
I donít overrate art. I tell my finance partner: you and I arenít different.
I have the power to write words, you have the power to understand numbers.
If youíre writing about a lake, you donít have to sit in front of one.
The image of a lake may have entered my mind a long while ago and that
image matures in words. I donít mind if anyone rejects a song. If it isnít
working, then it isnít. The greatest lesson Iíve learned is to discard
ideas. Advertising taught me that. I used to feel hurt when an idea was
rejected. Advertising is a commercial world and has its constraints. In
cinema, I have to do justice to the directorís vision. If I donít, then
it isnít working. So I am very critical about all my work.
Do you feel
songs add something important to films?
Absolutely. I feel theyíre essential and give a new dimension to cinema,
and cinema uses them beautifully. Songs can express emotions dialogue
cannot. Love is expressed differently in prose and poetry. In dialogue,
we say: I love you, but in poetry you can say, Humen tum se pyaar
kitna, hum nahin jaante, magar ji nahin sakte tumhaare bina. We will
lose that beauty if we follow the West. What worries me about globalisation
is that some believe American culture is superior, while it may be the
most inferior culture in the world. Just because their economy is doing
well, their lifestyle is desirable.
I also believe film
music has life beyond a particular movie. The first task of a song is
to do justice to a situation. But the album has longevity and the song
will find new contexts. For example, take ďZindagi ka saath nibhata
chala gaya,Ē it is still sung today and itís irrelevant that it was
written for Hum Dono.
I donít take it very seriously. But being successful has advantages. People
listen to you and respect your point of view. They give me more space,
and if Iím busy, they are ready to wait for me. These are the up-sides
of success. The downside is you can get away with mediocre work. You have
to draw the line and never let it happen. You have to be relentless and
honest with your pen. Thatís crucial.