Student-run production group creates viral, full-length video

Kunal Agarwal/Courtesy
From left. Kunal Agarwal, Sanjoy Deb, Neeraj Kohirkar, Shayan Fakurnejad, and Justin Nguyen pose in a recording studio.

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If you ask UC Berkeley senior Kunal Agarwal what he did to make an original music video produced by 20-something-year-old college students go viral on the Internet, he’ll tell you it was a team effort.

It all began about a year ago, when Agarwal and Bay Area DJ Sanjoy Deb — who performed at the ASUC-sponsored concert The Glade in December — began making music videos for UC Berkeley Azaad, a competitive Bollywood dance group on campus. The videos they produced introduced Azaad’s dances before the group performed them by setting up their storylines and premises.

“You need the raw materials, you need to have the right soundtrack, the lights and the atmosphere to make a show memorable,” said Anooshka Kumar, a team captain in Azaad. “Whenever we have a competition coming up, we really respect their team, and we are lucky to have them in terms of our production element.”

After producing videos for the dance team and some full-length music videos of remixed songs, Agarwal and Deb decided to take their passion one step further. This summer they released their first original music video, entitled “Tonight I Believe.”

Since it was released Aug. 9, the video for “Tonight I Believe” has amassed more than 1 million views on YouTube — a success that Agarwal and his peers attribute to a contest they began on the day the video was released, which asked Bollywood dance teams across the nation to share the video on Facebook.

But how exactly did Agarwal and Deb transition from a pair making videos for a dance team to group producing a viral video with entirely original content?

“It started off as just for fun — for now it’s four or five friends doing stuff we love,” said Justin Nguyen, the group’s sound expert and a UC Berkeley senior. “From the song-making, to the singing, to the marketing, to the video production: It’s all within our team. We work together well.”

Agarwal was the head of production. Deb did the music-making. Nguyen handled vocal production. The music was written and performed by Neeraj Kohirkar, a UC Berkeley alum who sang in the video and who has appeared in the group’s previous music videos. Shayan Fakurnejad, also a campus senior, was the creative director and director of photography. And other than acquiring DJ and set design equipment from the San Jose-based company Dynamic Sound and Lighting, the production aspects of the video were created from scratch and completely student-driven, Deb said.

“We worked with the idea, one step at a time,” Nguyen said. “First, we made the instrumental track and then Neeraj (Kohirkar) wrote the lyrics. After that we got together and I wrote the video script, and then we got into production.”

As a result of the video’s widespread circulation, Agarwal, Deb, Fakurnejad, Nguyen, and Kohirkar found their video on the front page of YouTube, and popularity soared from there, Agarwal said.

The video, a boy-meets-girl love story set in the midst of a club with romantic flashbacks to the two in high school, was co-choreographed by Azaad dancer Anisha Babbar, a campus sophomore. According to Babbar, Agarwal and his friends have a fairly large fan base, and the success of “Tonight I Believe” is a testament to that.

“I wasn’t too surprised that the video got famous, because he has a pretty good following,” Babbar said. “Each and every time he releases a production it does pretty well.”

Contact Brittany Jahn at [email protected].