At the recently held Jaipur Literarure Festival, Prasoon Joshi read out poems, sang songs, and created such a craze among the audience that he was literally mobbed at the book signing session. He opened the session by telling everyone how, after the movie 'Taare Zameen Par' was released and the song "Maa" became famous, many fathers complained to him. "I had lots of letters from dads. They told me 'Yeh kya hai, aapne pita ke sang anyay kiya hai. Pita bhi pyaar karte hain apne bachchon se,' and that led me to write a poem for dads." It was a poem so poignant that even after he finished it, the audience took a moment to applaud.
But then, that should be no surprise for someone who has been writing poems since he was 15, and had a book to his name when 17. "But then I realized I could not make a living out of writing poetry, and so I began to write Bollywood songs," he said.
Prasoon was here last time too, and for him, coming here has a specific purpose. "In a world where there is so much noise, here is a place where things which are murmurs of life - I call poetry murmurs of life - and in this high decibel level of noise, there is somebody giving a platform for those words that buzz in your head, want to hold discussions and hear about poetry and literature, and I think it is my responsibility to be here and talk to the people who love my work," says Prasoon, adding, "Also, this is special for me, as in I wrote Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, which is my first full Bollywood film. I mean yes, I have part-written scripts before this, but this film is mine from concept to scripting, dialogue, screenplay, songs - as a writer, it is my first complete package. And from the mails I have received from regular people, I know that now there is a curiosity to know more about my work, and people wrote to me and said they would be disappointed if I didn't come, so I came."
Prasoon says he was very caught up, and had to change his travel plans to accommodate JLF. "I have come here not as a speaker, but as a student. There are many people here whom I myself look up to. And I know that it is not like watching TV - coming here is a conscious effort, people have to make an effort, travel to come here, it is cold, but they still have to be here in the morning. So it involved a bit of sacrifice, and that proves the intent," said Prasoon.
At the session yesterday, he spoke about his book and the forms of poetry in languages that are slowly getting marginalized, like the Pahari language (he hails from Uttrakhand), and he recited poems from his book, Sunshine Lanes. But, we asked him, for someone who writes songs for Bollywood, is a scriptwriter, a lyricist, an adman who used to write jingles before that, wasn't he always part of popular poetry? What is Bollywood song but popular poetry (even though some songs today might not qualify)? Prasoon laughs and says, "We're talking of poetry as an art form that has its acceptance, versus what form we are consuming it in. As a writer, I don't feel satisfied unless I reach out to people and explain what I have written - it is this need in me to see people resonate with the thoughts inside me, whether they agree with them or not.And I feel film songs allow me to do that."
But, he says, "I felt people are not reading poetry, but that I can still reach out to them through film songs, and so I, like I said, began to write songs. Bollywood plays a very big role, provided you have that right mix of literature in it, the right people doing it. We had some great litterateurs like Sahir Ludhianvi and Kaifi Azmi at one time, and they extended themselves to Bollywood, to people, and I think Bollywood shapes popular culture, builds popular consciousness and imagination. But the kind of language it exists in today, one day it will be unimaginable to push it away from literature - take the way we use language in common parlance in literature today, it would be impossible to think of that without the influence of Bollywood. So I think it's important that a lot of literary people join Bollywood. If the inflow of literature into Bollywood stops, Bollywood will become very passe. There has to be a flow from literature to Bollywood, and every time this happens, we have always had good cinema coming out to reach out to the audience. And I think of late, we see less of that. Bollywood has to borrow from literature, as Bollywood is a great popular platform, and literature should use Bollywood to reach out. There has to be a symbiotic relationship between the two. Only then will the masses have the best of both the worlds, and I have always felt it is my duty to give the audience the best, be it as a writer of poems, or as a writer of Bollywood films."