There’s something remarkable about the interiors of The Viral Fever (TVF) Campus at Andheri in Mumbai. While there is a dash of yellow depicting the logo, which has a stroke of thermometer at the entrance, the interiors are painted white and a tinge of light green, with two witty quotes in the lounge and one on the adjoining wall. One of them reads, “Haat pair chalate rahoge, toh bulb jalega boss.” A big sketch of Pitchers, TVF’s most popular show so far, covers most of the adjacent wall. TVF, which was founded by Arunabh Kumar in 2010, popularly known as The Qtiyapa Guy, is India’s first original online content creator with more than 2 million subscribers on YouTube today. After media houses shot down his pilot shows, Kumar decided to use bandwidth and his engineering skills to create an online channel for the youth. Their shows including Rowdies 9, Barely Speaking With Arnub, Permanent Roommates, Pitchers and many others have been huge hits. As the man himself puts it, “Today, TVF channel on YouTube is rated higher than Bindaas, Channel V and MTV put together.” This success has been made possible by the three musketeers — Arunabh Kumar, Amit Golani aka Golu and Biswapati Sarkar aka Bisso — who believe in producing original online content. It is passion and honesty that binds Arunabh, Golu and Bisso together. The trio is currently working on their first full-length movie. They shout, mock and scorn, but they also trust, laugh and live their lives to the fullest, making every possible effort to make their dreams come true, together.
How did the three of you meet?
Golani: We met in the hostel canteen of IIT-Bombay. Arunabh was doing some project in IIT-Bombay after graduating from IIT-Kharagpur. I was pretty active in dramatics and since he was also interested in this, we met through common friends. I needed a handycam and he had one. He gave it to me and I made a short film using that. That was my first acquaintance with him.
Kumar: It was a lucky camera; a lot of people had won awards using it. I had written a script for a TV show and Golu had written something similar. We ended up discussing the scripts and got talking.
Sarkar: Arunabh graduated in 2006, and I started college in 2007. In my second year, I was trying to find out some seniors who were into filmmaking. Someone told me that Arunabh had worked in Om Shanti Om as an assistant director. I reached out to him through Facebook. He asked me if I would assist him as an intern in Mumbai. When I came here, I remember seeing this man standing next to the camera and somebody nudged him and said, “Look, Biswapati is here.” He waved his hand and said, “Hey, what’s up?” Once his work got over, he came to me and hugged me. It was as if he knew me since years. That’s how Arunabh is — very warm and welcoming.
What was your first impression about each other?
Golani: The fact that someone gave me a camera was a huge deal for me. Arunabh watched what I did. I quit my job because I wanted to be a part of a TV show. We bonded with each other, since he had done a similar thing. It was evident that we were heading down the same path.
Kumar: Golu was the first employee in my company. While everybody came with his/her insecurities, Golu openly discussed his with me and we sorted it out. That is something, which I liked. I found that he shares the same work ethos and dynamics as I did. That’s where we connected in terms of working.
With Bisso, I had recognised his skill lies in writing. He had written a script for a few episodes when he came for the internship, and they were really interesting. I remember walking with him on the streets of Mumbai while discussing our first scripts as to how can they be improvised further. He didn’t take up a job after his graduation since he had decided to join TVF.
Sarkar: Arunabh was treating me as if I was the most important person on the planet when I first met him. I was just 21 years old then, but I was very comfortable with him. Golu always sat in front of a computer either editing or watching videos on YouTube. It took two to three vacations for me to start talking to him, after which I realised that this guy has a life out of the computer as well. But once I joined TVF, post 2012, I collaborated with Golu most of the time. All our early videos are mostly directed by him and written by me.
How would you describe the other?
Kumar: This question can lead us into huge problems (laughs). Golu is very clear about what he wants and I don’t think anybody has that kind of clarity that he has. The best thing about Bisso is that he always tries to look for good even in bad situations. It could be books, movies, videos or anything. This is something, which he has taught us.
Golani: Calling a spade a spade is something that I’ve picked from Arunabh. I wasn’t so candid before joining IIT. It is very important not to lie to yourself given the work that we do.
Sarkar: The amount of effort that Golu puts in to reach perfection is really inspirational. Arunabh sees the bigger picture. You would not have imagined something and he will come and tell you the truth about the universe. He also takes your case for missing out the details at times. But that’s for the good.
What projects have you have worked on with each other?
Sarkar: Golu and I have worked on most of the projects. We worked for Lage Raho Shetty Bhai; Rowdies 9 was co-directed by him and Arunabh. I wrote a song on the spoof of Ishq Wala Love song from the movie Student Of The Year; he directed it. He also edited most of our videos such as Gangs Of Social Media. We have also worked on Ek Thi Behen together.
How is it like to work with each other?
Golani: Our initial crew had just four people. We were writing scripts, holding the camera and the recorder, editing and also working as make-up artists. Everybody was doing everything.
Kumar: We thought that we should not be waiting for other people to tell us what we need to do, rather figure it out ourselves. Golu was also a part of some boring corporate films that I was working in parallel. That was just a way of earning money to survive for six months. Not only Golu or Bisso, even our actors put in a lot of effort to bring alive the characters. A lot of Mikesh’s character in Permanent Roommates, a web series, which revolves around Tanya and Mikesh, who decide to marry after a long distance relationship, was written after he was selected in the audition. The way he spoke was fuel for Bisso when writing future episodes.
How often do you spend time together?
Kumar: It’s been six years since our company was started and it has grown to 150 people from three people. There has been a lot of transition in TVF over the last two years.
Sarkar: Currently, we hardly spend a couple of hours together in a week since the three of us are working on different projects. Earlier we used to spend 14-16 hours a day. We used to hangout even after our projects.
So, did you have a favourite hangout place?
Golani: Prior to this office, we were at ‘127 Bungalow’ in Aram Nagar, Mumbai. It was a very rare bungalow because it had a unique setup with a big hall and two small rooms. There was a garden behind that. We have played a lot of games there.
What are some of the worst conflicts that you have had?
Kumar: There is only one thing that I remember which happened during Gangs of Social Media. It was a joke on Pope, which I wanted to include but everybody disagreed.
Golani: I didn’t think we should include it, but there were others who disagreed with me. So, there was a major fight on that joke. It went on till late in the night and we were supposed to release it the next day. We ended up including it.
How do you resolve these creative conflicts? Do you come to a common ground or do you go with one view?
Kumar: We are very objective about disagreement. We listen with an open mind and see if the other perspective makes sense. We come to a common ground if the argument is sensible. We have a big team and mistakes are bound to happen. These are pretty much similar to boardroom arguments and we don’t let our emotions get in the way.
Sarkar: We have developed the ability to give constructive feedback. We not only critique the work being done, but also suggest how it can evolve over time.
How have you influenced each other?
Golani: Arunabh is an outgoing person; he likes to meet new people. I used to feel that socialising wasn’t important. But I realised meeting new people enables you to do what you are doing better. That is something, which I have adapted over the years and I’m getting better at that.
Kumar: Golu has taught a lot of people that confidence is an outcome of clarity. He is always able to present a clear picture of right and wrong, making us realise that things are not as easy as they often seem to be.
Professionally, everybody looks up to Bisso because of the way he does things. He has the best way of doing everything and everyone wants to be like him. We call him the ‘Raju Hirani’ of TVF.
Sarkar: The most important thing that I have learnt from Arunabh is not to bluff. Also, I’ve learnt to focus on my work so that it speaks for itself. I’ve learnt to focus on the immediate things while never forgetting the bigger picture.
What’s the one thing that you admire the most?
Sarkar: The fact that Arunabh has given me an opportunity to do something together is appreciable. He was willing to take the risk after hiring me. Golu has also believed in my ideas and has collaborated with me patiently. This is truly gratifying.
Golani: I admire the never-ending strength of Arunabh. His energy is infectious.
Kumar: It has been a long journey for me. Both Golu and Bisso have stood by me even through tough times. They trusted me enough and believed in what I was trying to do.
What’s the one thing that you want to change about each other?
Golani: (pointing to Arunabh) His hair! (laughs)
Sarkar: I would want Golu to get married or at least find a partner. He needs to stop loving food and probably start going out with a real person. I wouldn’t like to change Arunabh; I like the way he is. There are a lot of things about him that bothers me at times, but I can live with it.
If you could steal one thing, what would it be?
Kumar: Wapas hair mat bol! (laughs)
Golani: Arunabh’s memory. He has unbelievable memory! If he meets someone for 10-15 minutes, he will remember him even four or five years later. I can’t remember the person whom I met three days ago.
Kumar: Golu’s patience. He is very patient. Bisso is very resilient.
Golani: With Bisso, it’s definitely the quality to see good in everything.
What is the secret behind your relationship?
Golani: We are three; this question sounds perfect for a couple (laughs).
Sarkar: Honesty. Candid communication leads us to tell the other person what we feel, without any inhibitions. That is how we have grown and continue to grow.