When wisecracks went viral: The Viral Fever
Seeing existence as an online start-up in an extremely dynamic entertainment sphere with cut-throat competition, The Viral Fever has managed to create a mark of its own with passionate actors and witty script writers and won hearts of the young populace all over the country.
We waited and waited for them during Innovision and could barely conceal our disappointment when that didn’t happen. But there they were during ISM, the nostalgic last college fest for many, warming our souls with good old laughter. As the TVF glitterati Jitendra Kumar (JK) and Aakanksha Thakur (AT) along with stand-up comedy hotshot Vipul Goyal (VG), stepped onto the stage for a humorous evening, the crowd of ISM 2016 hooted relentlessly to steal glances of their favourite stars. Team MM took this opportunity to fit in some face-to-face time with The Viral Fever to talk about comedy, career and their journey as a team. Watch them unfold their ‘swagger’ in the excerpts of the interview, because “Gunday nahi, comedian hain!”
MM: What is it like to be part of the online comedy institution?
VG: When we started, we were just experimenting. We weren’t sure of anything then. Everybody basically was making movies and we were just shooting something. Posting the video was free, there was no censorship and we had an open audience. It was a whole new playing field. And the internet is such a powerful thing; the very fact that we are here today, that you came to know about us and invited us here is testimony. It is a very democratic medium and extremely brutal too. You cannot afford to be overconfident- for example, if one video is really good and next one isn’t, the comments don’t spare any bit. With movies too, one sometimes do not like the movie from a renowned actor but they can’t really do anything about it. The internet, on the other hand, provides the platform to express your anger and the comments can get really harsh.
MM: Does it affect you?
VG: Initially it affected us a lot. But it is a fact that even all of mainstream movies aren’t good so you take an overall look to judge whether its actor is good or bad. We know it better now. We feel that people have a right to that- if they put you in a pedestal, they can take you down. The comments are really good sometimes like “Jeetu should get an Oscar” and then there are also the “You suck” comments. We know in all humility that they have that right.
MM: What do you think of the Comedy business in India?
JK: It is pretty intense as of now. Go back five years and all you had for such shows was Kumar Vishwas. Today, in almost all colleges, there is a stand-up comedy night. We go to so many colleges now. Even corporates have warmed up to the idea. It is all the new groups now- AIB, TVF, EIC- they connect with their audience. We think it is because we belong to their age group and also have a similar story- that of an engineering student and therefore are able to connect better.
MM: People do tend to take a lot of offence here. How do you manage with that?
VG: We play by the rules. If we are to perform somewhere and we are told to avoid saying certain things, we follow those guidelines. It is fair. India is a very good country to do comedy in right now because we feel people are cool about the jokes. Like here, at NITR, we poked a little fun with Srikant. Even if we look at things like The Roast, the general audience did enjoy it; it was the two-three people in power that took offence. No fan booked an FIR against them.
MM: What are some similarities between the Jeetu portrayed in Pitchers and yourself?
JK: Jeetu in Pitchers is shown to be extremely obedient, emotional and very disciplined. I am not emotional but definitely that disciplined. I am a lot like what I portray but there are differences too. It’s a mixture of me and the writer.
MM: What was the transition like from retail analyst to stand-up comedian?
JK: I used do comedy in college but I never did stand-up well. It had been six months in the company and I hadn’t much to do on my job. I had with basically nothing to do in the office- except watching YouTube videos. Then, the 2008 recession cost me my job. So, I got a tad dramatic thinking God wanted me to do what my heart says but it wasn’t like that in any way. I got into theatre for a year or two and did mostly comedic plays. Just then, Comedy Store which is a stand-up comedy chain operating in London, Manchester had come to Bombay and all and my friends suggested that I audition. I got cleared and that is how I got into comedy. If it hadn’t been for Comedy Store, I would have never done comedy.
MM: You, Biswapati Sarkar and Arunab were from the same institute. How was your rapport with them?
JK: Arunabh is a lot senior to us. I met Biswapati in 3rd year when I was doing a play. He too was working on a comedy play in which he had asked me to act in a serious role. He was a senior but we became good friends; talked about a lot of movies. Biswa is an encyclopaedia of movies. Arunabh is also a very good friend but my relationship with him is a bit more formal.
MM: Any special experiences while working with TVF?
AT: We were making viral videos and we used to have a viral video every 3 months. This one time, it had become 6 months between videos becoming viral and we were a little tensed. We had done a video where we had created it from audience dialogues to which the reaction was brutal and our morale had gone down. Rakhi was approaching and we were thinking of making a video on that. Instead of going for a spoof like we had done in the past, we had gone for a horror theme keeping in mind how guys are scared of the Rakhi. We had made it in a day and the video released in 4 days. It was a great experience.
MM: What were the similarities between the story of Pitchers and the actual story of TVF?
VG: The basic elements are similar for almost every start-up. The scene with Jeetu’s Dad- that was quite spot-on in most of our cases. We all have had to convince our parents why we wanted to give up our background and enter this field. We also went through the process of pitching ideas in Production Houses and subsequently getting rejected. Pitchers was about a start-up with technical background and we had an entertainment background but the soul is the same- the same feelings of rejection on a daily basis.
MM: What are your plans beyond TVF?
VG: None this year because we are making a lot of video series. But if something good comes up, we will take it. Jeetu is auditioning for movies too. From an actor’s point of view, TVF is just one production house. Have you ever heard anybody say I will work only for Dharma and not for YashRaj productions? Everybody does want to make movies. Ultimately, we all want to become Shah Rukh (smiles).
MM: Is it a coincidence that most people in TVF are IITians?
JK: It is a coincidence. Basically, with IITians, there is a lot of brother-hood. When any of us are in Kharagpur or Bombay, we immediately head over to the IIT and meet up over there. We see the plays in the institutes. There isn’t a lot of guidance in this industry and we do tend to turn to our college friends when we need it- like most other people. So, it is not planned, it is just a lucky coincidence. Now, none of the newer members are IITians.
MM: As an engineer in an entertainment industry, what sort of criticism did you come across?
VG: Everybody invariably says that each of us wasted a seat. Generally, we get into engineering because our parents tell us to. When we come to college and we get four years’ worth of time to think, somewhere during the second-third year we realise we want to do something else. It is a fact that very few people are actually able to do engineering; very few engineering graduates end up as engineers. Many go for IT, finance jobs, corporate, start-ups etc.