Prasoon Joshi is new CBFC chief: Poet wrote Modi's Acche Din campaign, opposes censorship
The film industry must have definitely heaved a sigh of relief with the departure of Pahlaj Nihalani from the post of chairperson of the ‘Censor’ Board (aka the Central Bureau of Film Certification). The man, whose name had become synonymous with controversies, thanks to his diktats, had become a thorn in filmmakers’ sides. His replacement however — adman, poet and writer Prasoon Joshi — isn’t a surprising choice. (We’ll explain why in a bit.)
Is it time for the film industry (and audiences) to celebrate? Which way will Joshi go during his tenure? The one established by Nihalani, or by Vijay Anand — whose radical proposals regarding film certification to the then government were considered radical? To arrive at a conclusion, it would be prudent to get to know Joshi first.
Born in the hills of Uttarakhand, Prasoon Joshi is noted for his poetry. His verses found him acceptance in Bollywood circles, and in the ad industry, where he gave catchy taglines for numerous campaigns while working for McCann Erickson. Prasoon currently heads the Asia Pacific division of the ad agency.
After earning a management degree from IMT, Ghaziabad, Joshi joined the reputed ad agency Ogilvy & Mather. Success followed. When Aamir Khan became the brand ambassador for Coke, the tagline he delivered (‘Thanda matlab Coca-Cola’) was courtesy Prasoon. It was only when he was firmly established in the ad industry that Prasoon began to explore poetry further.
Opportunity came in the form of Mahesh Mathai, who asked Prasoon to write something on the Bhopal gas tragedy for his 1999 release, Bhopal Express. What Prasoon came up with was a mix of poetry and dialogue, highlighting the horrors of the Union Carbide leak. The icing on the cake was Amitabh Bachchan reading out his verses.
Prasoon’s ‘Gustakhiyan Hai’ song from Amitabh Bachchan’s 2002 release Aankhen became a chartbuster, followed by Yash Raj Films’ Hum Tum — which sealed his reputation as a lyricist. This was also the phase when his friendships with Bachchan and Aamir Khan were cemented. The following years saw Prasoon writing lyrics for Khan’s film, including Taare Zameen Par (which fetched Joshi a National Award in 2008), Rang De Basanti, Fanaa and Ghajini.
Prasoon Joshi is not an unfamiliar name in the circles of Lutyen’s Delhi — be it during the time of the UPA, or NDA governments. During the UPA regime, he was asked by then finance minister P Chidambaram to conceptualise the Service Tax campaign of the government so that it reached the masses. When Aamir Khan talked about Atithi Devo Bhavo as part of Incredible India campaign, the entire theme was created by Prasoon’s agency, McCann Erickson. When the BJP thought of giving a new flavour to their 2014 Lok Sabha election campaign and structure things around Narendra Modi, the person they approached was Joshi (this was in addition to industry veterans Sam Balsara and Piyush Pandey). Though Piyush Pandey coined the Abki Baar Modi Sarkar and Acche Din Aane Wale Hai slogans, it was Prasoon Joshi who turned out to be the dynamo of the entire BJP election campaign. The success of that campaign has made it a case study at various management courses.
It was during the same campaign that Prasoon wrote an anthem titled ‘Saugandh’, which was voiced by none other than Narendra Modi. Modi even thanked Joshi in a tweet, on 25 March 2014.
Joshi’s BJP connection dates back to the days of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was one of his fans and loved Prasoon’s poetry. Prasoon’s poem titled ‘Irade Naye Bharat Ka’ even became part of one of Vajpayee’s speeches. During the elections of 2009, when the BJP projected Lal Krishna Advani as its prime ministerial candidate, then too Prasoon Joshi was given the charge of spearheading the entire campaign. That time Prasoon came up with the slogan of Majboot Neta, Nirnayak Sarkar. Joshi was awarded for the work he had done for the BJP when in 2015, he was conferred the Padam Shri.
Prasoon’s latest association with the BJP has been for Modi’s pet project — the Swachh Bharat Mission. The BJP think tank once again roped Prasoon in, when they wanted to reach out to the masses.
Judging by his fruitful and long association with the BJP, it only seems fair to ask if things will change in the corridors of the CBFC office after the departure of Pahlaj Nihalani. Nihalani’s actions never concealed that he was a BJP stooge. If Prasoon’s past association with the BJP is a moot point in the entire discussion, then it only seems fair to conclude that we are back to square one.
A few years ago, in an interview with Bollywood Hungama, Prasoon had mentioned that ‘we need to create a society where there is no requirement of any censorship’. This statement might just haunt him in days to come if the diktats to censor films are issued from Delhi. There is no denying that the Har Har Modi, Ghar Modi campaign fetched Pahlaj Nihalani the post of chairperson of the CBFC. The same can be said about Prasoon Joshi too.
A few years ago when Sunny Leone was targeted in an interview with a TV channel, most of the film industry supported her. Prasoon Joshi didn’t, stating that he didn’t agree with (her choice of) past profession.
At a panel discussion organised by a newspaper a while ago, Prasoon had questioned the rights of the government to censor. He had also asked why India even needed censorship. These were bold statements to make, but they were said at a time when Joshi was not part of the system.
If we were to make any prophecies about the upcoming CBFC tenure of Prasoon, based on his past work then there is certainly a glimmer of hope. But if his association with BJP becomes a factor, then the issue becomes murkier. Seen from that prism, one may suppose that his hands would be tied as the BJP has done him a favour, and awarded his firm many contracts. It goes without saying that the coming weeks will be full of challenges for the ad man. It will be interesting to see what course Prasoon charts, and whether or not he will be able to restore confidence in the CBFC.