Given a chance, Prasoon Joshi would have been a cricketer. His latest cricket connect? The adman-lyricist-screenplay writer-poet penned the poem for IPL V recited by Amitabh Bachchan during last night’s inaugural ceremony in Chennai. Joshi chatted with t2 late on Sunday about cricket and Bhaag Milkha Bhaag…
How did the idea of penning a poem for the IPL come about?
Basically, the organisers told me... the whole thing seemed like a good idea but poetry is a very different discipline. I have done songs earlier. But this was to be recited, not sung. In a song, the words are very different, danadan, tod de, phod de... kind of a things. I thought let me try. I write poetry on everything, so why not cricket. The moment I finished it, I mailed it to Mr (Amitabh) Bachchan who loved it instantly.
I am sensitive about giving my poetry for recitation to anybody else, because there are things like being precise, there are pauses in your head which you don’t know whether someone will be able to do justice to or not. But with Mr Bachchan, you can be rest assured that his understanding of poetry is very good. I have spent some time with him in his house reciting poetry together. He not only has the greatest voice in the country, but also a great understanding of what your poetry is trying to say. That’s a huge comfort for me. He has recited my poems earlier also.
What does your poem say?
The thought is about being born again and how you would like to be born as a part of cricket. It is almost a eulogy to the game… like someone who has a devotional feeling towards the game and almost feels one with the game. And I think all of us feel that... being born in India, we know what cricket means to us. It is much more than a game. A lot of people feel why is cricket so important? A lot of things about cricket are very much in sync with our psyche. We like intricate stuff. Look at our culinary ways... cooking for hours. Cricket is a game suited to the temperament of this country. We are very layered... our whole society...
So this is the first time that you have written a poem on cricket?
I have written songs... anthems, but yes, poetry, first time. I don’t know whether somebody else has written poetry about cricket. I think it seemed something that is very natural.... I wonder why I have never tried it.... I probably only explored the passion part of it always and the songs and anthems normally did that... more charged up... more of a war cry... but here you are trying to understand the intricacies and how beautiful the game is.... I feel I should have done it before.
How closely do you follow cricket?
I am more of a Test cricket person. I find a lot of poetry in the game. I like the lyricism.... I love the spinners and the wrist-play of many cricketers which we hardly see these days… someone like (Mohammad) Azharuddin or someone like Gundappa Viswanath... their kind of artistic cricket.… It is the ideal combination of body and mind that you see in this game.
You love Test cricket, but you started by writing poetry on IPL!
My inspiration always comes from Test cricket. More than Test cricket actually, it is the cricket that is played in the gullies of this country. And that doesn’t have any boundaries. It is not about 20 overs, but temperamentally what you see in that game. Temperamentally, being a writer, I see more of the lyricism in that game. All the value system of cricket comes from Test cricket.
And we are brought up in a country that is completely obsessed with cricket. A lot of people lament the loss of other games. I feel it is the people’s choice. If they wanted to like something else, they would. It is much more cultural and intricate… But yes, there should be promotion for other games. If somebody wants to play tennis or hockey, training programmes should be there.
What do you love about the IPL?
When IPL came, I got a little worried, frankly. I thought it would change the game completely. At that time, I was completely against IPL. I being a Test cricket lover, felt that it was going to destroy the basic quality of cricket, which is about mind and character... tampering with the DNA of the game. But eventually, what I am realising is that Test cricket will have its own place and IPL will have its own place. Someone like me, who does a lot of things together… I do advertising, which is hardcore selling on the one hand and do poetry on the other; on the one hand I do Taare Zameen Par and on the other I do Coca-Cola! So, things can co-exist.
If you were to make an ad for the IPL, what elements would you keep?
When you read my poem... that’s what I would like to have. It is a long poem… six minutes. The only interpretation that people normally have for IPL is the war cry part of it; there is much more passion in it. IPL hasn’t yet formed an identity in this country according to me. People do not know why they should watch IPL. The loyalties are yet not clear. So, it is actually a festival of cricket. It is like when you are playing Holi. For me, IPL is a collective celebration. And it is going to be viewed like a celebration. Sometimes I might like one player from one team and sometimes I might want another team to win for very different reasons....
Who would you be supporting?
I have no loyalties (to any team). Being a Mumbai person, I can say that I definitely associate a little bit more with Mumbai. I was born in Uttarakhand. For me, it is the game that I watch... my favourite players... I’d like to watch a Sachin (Tendulkar) score well... I would like to watch (M.S.) Dhoni... also Virat Kohli, (Gautam) Gambhir is a good guy. Many youngsters are coming up. I like watching them. I love watching Shane Warne. I am a big fan. I watch it for the people I like or sometimes just the strategy.... I haven’t watched many IPL games, but whenever I have watched it, I have watched it for absolutely different reasons. I have watched it for the intricacies of the game.... If you want to go and listen to Kishori Amonkar singing — she is my favourite singer — even if she is singing to 10 people, I would be concentrating on what alaap she is singing. That’s how I follow. I follow individual styles... in tennis and in football... I like the struggle with the ball... for me there is poetry there and that’s what I like.
You love all kinds of sports?
I love sports. There is purity in sports. I would have loved to be a sportsman. I would have loved to play cricket and also been an athlete. After writing Bhaag Milkha Bhaag — I spent two years writing that film — and spending a lot of time in his (Milkha Singh) house, learning about the sports from him, it was beautiful... it was romantic. I used to visualise and write the scenes... how hard he would be practising... the dedication, the oneness... it is wonderful.
See, it is completely meditative. How much can you run just to outshine someone? One, twice, 10 times… when you are practising alone, what is motivating you to practise so hard? Look at the life of Milkha Singh. Initially, he was running for a glass of milk… fine, he got that… after that he wanted to get into the team… he got in… now you are running… you have won some medals… now you are practising, what are you practising for? What makes you practise or rehearse more and more? Rehearsing itself is meditative. Music, sports... they are all the same... if you love something passionately... when you are writing something... at the moment when you are actually writing it, there is no difference between you and the piece of work. You are one.
Has writing Bhaag Milkha... influenced you as a person?
It has changed the way I look at sportsmen. I used to feel that they are very competitive and that’s the only thing they have. They want to outshine someone. Milkha Singh once or twice said that after some time he used to forget if he was running with people or he was running with himself. And that’s exactly what I feel when I write. Is it some film I am writing for or am I writing for myself? Any craft is capable of giving you that meditative feeling. And you want to repeat it again and again. I never thought sportspeople would talk with so much precision about their skill. We are also looking for precise words and that’s what writing is all about.
Are you happy the way it has turned out?
For me, I am never happy. I always feel that I should do more. When you are writing a film, you have to keep in mind that some amount of money goes into it and that it has to make sense to so many people… I think I wrote all the songs of Delhi-6 pretty well... whether Maula or Rehna tu… they are very good songs, but unfortunately the film didn’t work. I remember reciting Maula to a terminally-ill lady… you have such moments. The Phir Milenge songs were beautiful too. So, I have tried to what I can do.