The feeling of joy is palpable as poet-adman Prasoon Joshi accepts the note of congratulation over phone for being conferred the Padma Shri, India’s fourth highest civilian honour. “I feel humbled and honoured,” he says. “My name was doing the rounds, but I wanted to hear from the government. The announcement was finally made. I feel happy because the honour is an acknowledgement of my work,” says the 46-year-old chairman of McCann Worldgroup Asia-Pacific and CEO of McCann Worldgroup India, who is also a scriptwriter and lyricist for Bollywood films.
Joshi, along with R Balakrishnan, Lowe Lintas’s India chairman and chief creative officer, has led this wave of advertising men and women into films in the last decade. Some others include Pradeep Sarkar (director of Parineeta and Mardaani), Abhinay Deo (director of Delhi Belly) and Amit Sharma (director of the recently released Tevar) – all whom are noted ad film-makers, who are also pursuing their interests in Bollywood.
While the management graduate from IMT, Ghaziabad, who has a master’s degree in physics is known for his work on films such as Rang De Basanti (2006), Taare Zameen Par (2008) and Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (2013), Joshi’s run in Bollywood began in 2001 when he penned the lyrics of the song Kaun Dagar Kaun Shehar in Madhuri Dixit-Manisha Koirala starrer Lajja.
Joshi, whose father was a bureaucrat and mother a teacher, is also part of the Hindi film brigade that does not mind exploring new themes and subjects. His appreciation of Indian culture and music has helped him bring out that rustic charm visible in both his ad films such as the popular Thanda Matlab Coca-Cola ad campaign in 2002 as well as his lyrics. Apart from his grip on language, Joshi’s technical brilliance was visible in the 2006 Happydent Palace commercial that took the concept of spotlessly white teeth to the next level by showing how chewing gum could be a source of light to royals in a palace. This film won twice at Cannes in 2007 and was rated amongst the top ten commercials of that year. His work for BJP’s general election ad campaign was also noted last year, where he composed the anthem Saugandh Is Mitti Ki, which played on radio, Youtube and rallies conducted by Narendra Modi.
Joshi says it is not easy balancing an advertising and Bollywood career.
His role as McCann’s APAC head sees him shuttling between offices across the region from China to Australia, Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore, and of course, India. Yet, he says, he does find time to pen a verse or write a story purely because he loves doing it. “My Bollywood and advertising careers in many respects are intertwined. I come from a background, where we were taught to appreciate the arts. I would get up listening to classical music in the morning as my mother practiced her vocals. Coming from a small town like Almora (in Uttarakhand)and travelling across the north, I think these early influences are visible in my work,” he says.
In his twenty-three year advertising career, Joshi has worked in only two agencies — Ogilvy, for a decade, and McCann, for thirteen years. Spotting his creative talent, creative boss Piyush Pandey was quick to elevate him in the 1990s making him executive creative director of the Mumbai office (Joshi began his stint in the Delhi office). He joined McCann in 2002 as executive-vice president and national creative director. He moved up quickly becoming executive chairman and regional creative director for McCann Worldgroup South and Southeast Asia in 2006. He was then named as the chairman of the McCann Worldgroup Creative Leadership Council in 2010, culminating in his appointment as the agency’s APAC head last year.