In a candid interview the CBFC Chairman, Prasoon Joshi, speaks about his latest book Thinking Aloud, censorship and more.
Prasoon Joshi wears many hats. He is not only an eminent poet-lyricist and chairperson of the Central Board Of Film Certification, but also a sort of creative adviser to the Prime Minister. Now the author of a new book ruminates over the exigencies of contemporary India in Thinking Aloud, a public meditation on the dynamics of modern India.
What makes your inner world tick to the rhythm of India’s art and politics?
I constantly write. My natural tendency and discipline is to write poetry, and I do so nearly every day. However, there are issues, subjects and viewpoints that need to be elaborated upon. So I used prose as a form and exploration as a guiding principle which prompted me to write this book that contains contemplations on different aspects like culture, creativity, cinema, etc which I have experienced.
What prompted you to pen these thoughts ?
As I have said in the book, life for me is a vantage point. Things exist as they are — fluid and amorphous. It’s a frame of mind, an individual interpretation that gives form and makes them unique. This book and the myriad thoughts are from my vantage point. Many of these thoughts struck me whilst working and understanding different segments of our society, many whilst in conversations and discussions with colleagues, artists and friends — that’s why the title Thinking Aloud.
There is often a debate on censorship of intellectual thought. As chairperson of the Censor Board, did you find yourself censoring your thought process?
I have always believed that artistic expression and sensitivity go hand in hand. A dimension of sensitivity is not just to be cognizant of how minutely you feel but also how your words, piece of music, act or art is going to impact the receiver. When you live in a society, and create to share with people at large, then filters are natural. Filters that don’t curb freedom of expression but emanate out of concern for your fellow human beings and in the interest of the society that we live in.
Do you believe in art for art’s sake?
Of course I believe in art for art’s sake. But I am also aware that every true artist understands the difference between art for self-expression, which is personal and art for commercial reasons. Art that is created for commercial viability, and for people at large needs to carry within itself natural filters of social responsibility.
You are seen to be very close to the government, seen sharing the dais with the PM. How much does this alliance influence your current reflections on the nation and its exigencies?
Nation building is a collective job. I have always supported correct intent, right polices and hard work. It is not an alliance. It’s a collective belief that all those who look beyond personal gains resonate with. This is how I run my personal and professional life. And I see the right intent very clearly in the current government and its leadership. My life is an open book. People are free to open any chapter and I am confident that an unbiased person will see clarity honesty and sensitivity.
But you do get a lot of criticism for what is seen to be your proximity to the ruling regime?
It’s easy to be an arm chair critic and point out what is wrong. But that is a convenient way. Years ago in Rang De Basanti I had written “Koi bhi desh perfect nahi hota, usse banana padta hai.” It’s tougher to roll up your sleeves, dirty your hands and get down to work and set things on the right path. That’s what I believe in: Doing. You get clarity by doing things. I have high regard for constructive criticism but it’s high time we dump armchair critics who have a muddied lense of narrow personal agendas and gains. And get down to work to improve things.
A question that I’ve often wanted to ask you is, how do you manage to balance out your various roles — poet, lyricist, censor chief, author, etc?
For me, there has been no conflict, I consider myself to be a person of ideas and thoughts. Though it’s most natural for me to express myself through poetry, but for me expressions can be in various forms. Be it a campaign or a script or a short story or an article or composing or singing. Yes, at times, some roles come naturally and others may not agree with my basic construct. But then growth lies in experiencing more. I don’t compartmentalise, I see my various artforms intertwined and feeding off each other. To answer your question simply — I don’t overthink, I simply do it. If the intent is correct and one is willing to honestly work hard, the rest falls in place.
An artiste like you brings a certain intellectual finesse to the hoary art of lyric writing. The songs of Manikarnika are enlightened, passionate, articulate and accessible. What would you say about the plummeting standards of lyric writing in Hindi cinema?
I am mostly an optimist and like to search for that ray of light in the darkness. If you read historically, great art has emerged in times of extreme decadence. Besides life is a great force. Through the haze of the funeral pyre of a loved one, with tear-washed eyes, you have decided to live on. This is a hard truth but reaffirmation that life is stubborn and it’s green shoot will sprout in the most barren of lands. I feel a similar way about lyric writing today. There is immense decline, and it saddens me but I still want to keep on writing. Well, that is what is in my hands, one can do one’s job well and I am always hopeful that true creative people get inspired by each other.
Finally, what according to you is the function and range of jurisdiction for censorship In India?
I have touched upon this earlier in our interview, when I talk about artistic expression and sensitivity and responsibility. I would really urge the readers to go through my book where I have written extensively about this and similar issues. It will answer many questions at length, and also make one ponder more deeply. It’s our society. We need to together as a collective consciousness work, to question the negative and utilise the positive. The answers have to collectively be sought with intellect, concern and fair play.
What is your vision of an ideal India?
Who wouldn’t want a world without boundaries, without division? Especially for any spiritual person not just humankind but the entire universe is one. But let’s face it, to exist and function we have created certain structures and order, and the least we can do is protect the sanctity of it. Sure, it does not imply that there has to be blind worship of anything but an open heart is a must for any true relationship.