Scripting Bhaag Milkha Bhaag was humbling: Prasoon Joshi

By HT

Prasoon Joshi seems to have nailed it with Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (BMB). The adman-poet-writer says doing the script for Farhan Akhtar’s movie was “daunting” but every bit worth the effort.

An ad world icon, you made McCann Worldgroup in India a force and built mega brands. Two National Awards, glory at Cannes, penning a unique book, and now you’ve scripted Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. There’s a touch of excellence in all you do. What’s the driving force?
Creation is lifeblood for me, be it brands, cinema or poetry. Belief in my company keeps me going and the support of seniors and colleagues fuels the pen. Life is teamwork.

Your take on the BMB team onscreen?
While off-screen we had Milkhaji to look up to, film is collaborative art. Each person’s art form adds to the sum total. Farhan is simply brilliant — just outstanding. He’s set new benchmarks. Sonam is a genuine artist doing films for the love of it and will go a long way. Pawan, Divya, Rebecca superbly brought their characters alive. Am thankful to each for doing justice to the script.

It took over two years to write BMB’s story, screenplay, dialogues and songs. It’s your first film on this scale and so successful … was it challenging or liberating?
Daunting. I wrote, rewrote several drafts but scripting BMB was humbling. On meeting Milkhaji, something resonated. Though his struggle was of another level and magnitude, in a small way I identified with the challenges of coming from an unprivileged background: a small town and the struggle to find a footing. There were documentaries, books and statistics available on Milkhaji’s sporting life but as a writer, my approach was to not mirror but interpret his life for a film. It’s a take on the man behind the athlete and what went in making him. As Rakeysh and I’ve said, it’s not strictly a biopic or documentary. I needed to create an inspiring story for celluloid.

Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (BMB) has a high entertainment and dramatic quotient; you’ve further gone on to give a meaning to his turning back in the Rome Olympics. Why this popular approach?
BMB is a film, and reaching out and connecting with a larger audience was important. Yes, I drew out an emotional meaning to his turning back, but that’s a way of telling a story, layering a narrative in a non-linear way. Weaving in sentiment, humour, drama and creating an experience for the viewer. My attempt was to retain the authenticity of the character, and create a delicious balance between reality and imagination. The first litmus test for this creation was when Milkhaji had tears in his eyes watching the film the second, when it resonated with the audience.

A few have so successfully treaded the rare dual path of song and script writing. Who’s your inspirational figure here?
Talking of these two crafts together, only Javed Akhtar. He’s effortless and brilliant in both.

One finds intense social consciousness and mass connect in your work. Malnutrition campaign, Rang De Basanti, Satyamev Jayate and the upcoming Sataygrah — why this revolutionary streak in your writing?
I am a believer. I believe in not accepting the status quo and making efforts to change it. I am no different than many of us — equally happy when a Taare Zameen Par makes parents more sensitive towards children or when a poetic Babul touches on the plight of women. I humbly want to make a difference.

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