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Music industry needs to have its own identity outside cinema: Prasoon Joshi at IFFI 2018

Screenwriter, lyricist and Central Board of Film Certification chief Prasoon Joshi spoke at a masterclass on 'Lyrical Imagination Unleashed' at the 49th International Film Festival of India.

Mayur Lookhar

If there is one thing special to Indian cinema, it is song-and-dance sequences. Since cinema came to India over a century ago, songs have been an integral part of Indian mainstream films.

Screenwriter, lyricist and Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) chairman Prasoon Joshi spoke at a masterclass titled 'Lyrical Imagination Unleashed' at the 49th International Film Festival of India in Goa.

With Joshi holding the microphone, there was bound to be poetry, philosophy and metaphor. He began with a bit of advice to aspiring poets — be confused.

“First, you should be confused," Joshi said. "I stay confused by choice. You don’t have to decide very fast. Youngsters are very restless. Society puts pressure on you, your family puts pressure on you. There is something called luminal space. The luminal space is the most fertile space. If you are very definitive about your views to begin with, I think there is no growth. You are a cemented reality. But we don’t know everything."

Elaborating, he said, “It’s important to try and explore your own realities. My understanding is that one has to look for an authentic voice. You might start by emulating others, you might start by following others.

"When I came to the film industry, I never imagined that I will write lyrics for songs. I used to write for myself. I also didn’t know the kind of vocabulary the film industry writes in. I had different metaphors, folk poetry. But when I started writing, people liked the freshness I had to offer. Authentic voice is very important.”

Joshi is clearly not a fan of mixing Western music with Indian. “We are trying to make everything palatable for ourselves," he remarked. "We turn folk music into fusion by adding some guitar and drums to it to make it palatable for us. Why can’t we become worthy of it? You turning the music to your taste, this is dadagiri [bullying]!”

Mulling over the reasons for the fusion trend, Joshi pointed out that we do not lack talent but we certainly lack the confidence to express it.

After the masterclass, the CBFC chief spoke with about music. Asked about Hindi film songs being less poetic today, Joshi agreed and said poetry ought to be taken more seriously in school.

“We should seriously include poetry in the curriculum and our schooling," said the man who wrote the songs for Taare Zameen Par (2007). "It’s now about creating more poets, it is about benefiting from poetry.”

Explaining his point, Joshi said, "If you listen to the biggest of business leaders, or even in Parliament, if you think poetry is so important to express yourselves and make profound statements, why not teach it properly? It is such an important part of our lives, not only to create poets, but to create better human beings, a sensitive society. For that reason, I think poetry should be taught more seriously, even in business schools. Poetry is not only about the art of writing, it is an art about living life.”

In the digital age, content is often consumed in smaller doses. Time was when the average Hindi film song was about four minutes long. Today, a film music video is barely two minutes long. Hear a mukhda (opening) and the song could be over. Are marketing pressures restricting lyricists?

Joshi refused to blame anyone but said the music industry is, perhaps, too dependent on films for its own good and needs to become independent.

“Honestly, I think we [the music industry] depend too much on films," he said. "No other country depends on its films for its music as much as we do. Songs have become synonymous with films. Why? It is not a film’s responsibility to promote music. I think songs and the music industry need to have their own independent identity. In the Western world, people have to borrow from the music industry and take those songs into films. It is high time we reduce our dependence on the film industry to promote music. Music is powerful enough to survive on its own.” 

The length of the average Hindi film has also come down, further reducing the scope for songs. Now, songs are often used only for promotions. Also, with filmmakers exploring genres other than romance, and veering towards realistic stories, the need for song-and-dance sequences has reduced.

Commenting on this changing trend, Joshi said, “Musical is just a genre in the rest of the world. We live, breathe music, it became almost essential to have songs in our films, and they were also promotional tools.

"I don’t want to get into the intricacies, but as a society, a lot of things that we couldn’t say through dialogues — intimate things — which could not be spoken about, were left for songs to handle. Earlier, poetry was used to express delicate situations, like courtship or even breaking of relations.”

But things are changing now as Indian audiences have become more accepting. “Over the years, society has evolved," the lyricist noted. "To tell someone 'I love you' has become easier than before. Hence, outsourcing something to a song is no longer required.

"The importance, role of songs has changed. They either capture situations or give voice to the inner voice. A lot of roles have also changed. Where earlier people required songs, they don't need them anymore.”

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