It has been two months since the teaser of ‘Pitchers’, a new web-series created by The Viral Fever, was uploaded on their official YouTube channel. If you check the comments on the video, the comparisons to American TV shows have been quite a few. While some have said that the teaser reminds them of ‘It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia’, most others have concluded via its subject matter — a look at India’s burgeoning start-up scene through the eyes of four budding entrepreneurs — that this is a desi take on ‘Silicon Valley’.
“We’ve been reading all these comments but haven’t said a word yet,” says Arunabh Kumar, 32, founder and CEO of The Viral Fever, in a phone conversation. “When people watch the show, they will realise that it’s quite different.”
‘Silicon Valley’ is a satire, he explains, while ‘Pitchers’ is a drama, of which only “maybe 20-30% is humour”. “We haven’t yet documented these emotions properly in India, so let’s do that first before we go for satire,” he says, with a laugh. On Thursday, Biswapati Sarkar — the show’s writer — also wrote a detailed Quora post explaining how the two are different animals.
‘Pitchers’ will be available on YouTube on June 10, but loyalists can watch it on TVF’s new website, TVFPlay.com, where the first episode was uploaded on Thursday. The website does not charge a subscription fee, but requires users to sign up and log on. "We wanted to create a community where our fans can watch not only our content, but also content that we at TVF like and endorse," he says.
Arunabh Kumar, 32, founder and CEO of The Viral Fever
The Viral Fever, which has been around since 2010, is one of the largest online content creators in the country. ‘Pitchers’ is the second web-series created by them after the well-received ‘Permanent Roommates’, which debuted in October 2014. One season and nine million views later, the latter is now — globally — the second-most-watched web-series (after ‘Video Game High School') on YouTube.
Clearly, there is an audience out there that will watch web-based content, as TVF — which has more than one million subscribers on YouTube — has proven consistently over the past five years. The idea for ‘Pitchers’ first came to Kumar in mid-2012, while brainstorming with his team about what kind of long-form content they could create. Having visited Bangalore twice in previous years, where he’d observed twenty-somethings sitting at pubs and bars in the afternoon and discuss business ideas over multiple pitchers of beer, the concept of making a web-series that took an irreverent look at the world of would-be entrepreneurs intrigued him.
“I would see people’s start-up dreams soar when they would start drinking their first mug of beer and die by the time the last pitcher was finished,” he said. “There is so much drama in the whole process. I mean, even the prospect of quitting a day job that pays you Rs 1-2 lakh a month to go out on your own… there are so many emotions that one goes through.”
The 'Pitchers' team at a pre-production meeting in April
A behind-the-scenes still from the opening credits sequence
The show’s principal characters are played by Naveen Kasturia, Jitendra Kumar, Abhay Mahajan, and Kumar himself (who otherwise rarely appears in TVF's videos, although this one is a notable exception). "They needed someone older, since the character I'm playing is a few years senior to them," he says. "I was apprehensive about doing it, but Golu [Amit Golani, the show's director] and the others managed to convince me."
In the first episode, the characters are shown to be working at mundane, dead-end jobs when Naveen (Kasturia) gets inspired by a former, successful college-mate to take the plunge into entrepreneurship. It’s an almost entirely predictable set-up, but the pilot hits mostly the right notes and does an extremely credible job in capturing the milieu as well as the infectious camaraderie between the characters.
A crucial scene shows Kasturia gazing out of the window of a taxi at a Housing.com billboard and looking away from it only to see a full-page ad for Snapdeal.com on a newspaper cover. There’s no doubt that ‘Pitchers’ couldn’t have been timed better, given how news about start-ups is now dominating mainstream media headlines. Kumar agrees. “I think if this show had come out 2-3 years ago, it wouldn’t have done well at all,” he says. “Now it at least has a chance.”
There has been “absolutely no compromise” with the quality of the show, which Kumar says has been made at a budget of roughly Rs 50 lakh per episode. Not only is that the highest per-episode budget ever for a web-only series so far in India, but it is also more expensive than what the average mainstream Hindi TV show costs to make. Moreover, each episode has been shot over 10 days, which Kumar says is far longer than the industry average of 2 to 3 days.
(From left) Vaibhav Bundhoo, cinematographer and music director for the show; and Amit Golani, director
Every season of the show will have five episodes, each of which will be around 40 minutes long and uploaded every fortnight on TVF Play; users who want to watch it on YouTube might have to wait a little longer. For Kumar, the idea was to take a significant step towards creating a show that would be as revered and closely followed as American hits such as ‘The Big Bang Theory’ or ‘Breaking Bad’. “We keep complaining about how India doesn’t make those kind of shows but no one wants to walk the talk,” he says. “If we don’t take a step in that direction, how will we ever get there?”
In fact, if there is any American show that has truly inspired ‘Pitchers’ — not in content, but in spirit — it is ‘Entourage’, an HBO drama about a young Hollywood star on the rise. “’Pitchers’ is a very ‘boys’ kind of a show,” he says, referring to the HBO show’s emphasis on male-bonding. “In coming episodes, just like 'Entourage', we'll have several cameos by well-known people from the start-up world.”
You can watch the first episode of 'Pitchers' here.