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BTS, Bollywood and the Nineties: A Recipe For Viral Success

How a small group of content creators became responsible for one of the most unexpected viral videos on Indian social media

Riddhi Chakraborty Jun 25, 2020
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Earlier this morning, a video made an appearance on my extended family’s WhatsApp group. It was a clip of South Korean megastars BTS dancing to the song “Chunari Chunari” from the 1999 hit Bollywood film Biwi No.1. The track was edited and perfectly synced onto a section of BTS’ choreography video for their hit 2019 single “Boy With Luv.” The seven members seem to hit every beat on the Hindi track and it makes for a rather amusing tableau, usually shared among Indian fans who grew up on Nineties music. These kinds of edits make regular rounds on desi K-pop social media, so it wasn’t the content of the video that was surprising–it was its presence on my family WhatsApp group that really shocked the hell out of me.

Over the course of the day, around six acquaintances and relatives had sent me a link to the video, having come across it on their own via various WhatsApp or social media links. The first instance had me giving it a small laugh and moving on, but as the number of links being sent to me with the text, ‘Isn’t this BTS? It reminded me of you!’ increased, as did my excitement that this was leading somewhere big.

The edit, created by newly-founded media company FilmForFare, was posted around a week ago but blew up massively in the last 24 hours. Instagram shares had a lot to do with the initial burst, but it would seem India’s love of WhatsApp forwards really came through to push it into the next level of viral fame. From there, the Instagram video began building views way into tens of thousands, eventually jumping over 100,000 views. Smaller news outlets in India who usually keep tabs on BTS’ activities initially began posting about the attention the video was getting, and as the numbers climbed, bigger mainstream outlets like NDTV, The Indian Express, News18 and many more began reporting on it too. As of now, the video sits on a whopping 165,000 views on Instagram alone.

“I didn’t expect this in the starting, but I’m honored by all the attention and love BTS’ fandom ARMY is giving,” says founder of FilmForFare, Sanchit Bhatt. A pro-footballer in Mumbai by day and by night a content creator, Bhatt started the company in April as an outlet for his creative drive, bringing in a team of fellow content creators led by video editor Mridul Bhatt and social media manager Vibhas Thakur. He’s new to BTS, having been introduced to them by a friend who led them to the group’s recent online concert Bang Bang Con The Live, but was instantly inspired by their choreography. “BTS turned my luck around, I’m a fan now,” he tells us when we connect over Instagram. “When [my friend] told me about this live concert, I told her I’ll do a video for her, and that’s when I did this video. As soon as I saw ‘Boy With Luv,’ I knew it would go well with a Bollywood song. Figuring out the song took some time and planning though.” It’s not the first video of its kind and many more like it exist with larger numbers across the web–some even posted by larger Indian media companies in an effort for viral traction–but this clip is the first to jump beyond the usual cocktail of K-pop fans, Millennials and Gen-Zs.

[L-R] Sanchit Bhatt, Mridul Bhatt and Vibhas Thakur are the minds behind FilmForFare. Photos: Courtesy of Sanchit Bhatt

A lot of things had to come together for this viral moment. We all know BTS’ fandom ARMY’s incredible sharing power, but for the clip to cross bridges into ‘local’ (non-fan) territory in India, it takes a blend of various factors. The first is that most urban audiences in India now have a basic knowledge of who BTS are or what K-pop is thanks to its presence on the Internet and increased visibility in Indian media over the last year or so. We had seen this trend of syncing Bollywood songs to K-pop videos crop up in 2017 and 2018, but with the size of the fandoms being much smaller, the numbers didn’t really get high enough to grab media attention. The rise of BTS’ fame in India has been constant over the last year, with more media outlets and channels keeping an eye on them as they gain global attention for their viral power, so it would make sense that content created about BTS today would garner a lot more attention in India than it did even at the start of 2020.

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The Nineties nostalgia connected to the unforgettable success of “Chunari Chunari” came in next and played a bigger role than expected, adding a dab of relatability and recognition across generations, regions and languages. It’s amusing to see an old Hindi song that’s so incredibly well-known among most Indians, paired to choreography performed by a Korean boy band–the notion itself is ridiculous but heartwarming enough to strike a chord with most Indians who came across the clip. Plus it’s worth acknowledging that the tremendous star power of the celebrities featured in the original video of “Chunari Chunari”–Bollywood superstars Salman Khan and Sushmita Sen–helped amplify the clip’s presence into their respective fandoms.

Finally, Bhatt feels BTS and his team at FilmForFare handled the rest by presenting a certain shock value by matching the group’s stellar choreography to every single beat of the Hindi track to the point where it made new audiences question if it was an actual cover or not.  “BTS matches the energy of Bollywood songs with their dance,” he explains, confirming that K-pop and Bollywood have a lot more in common than people think. “They put in so much effort in their dance and ‘Chunari Chunari’ is one of the most loved songs by Nineties kids. So that’s where it blew up. K-pop and a Nineties song… Who wouldn’t love that?”

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The clip turned out to present a bonus factor that many BTS and K-pop fans were pleasantly surprised by–friends and family who were previously dismissive of the group were now impressed enough to reach out and have a conversation about it all. Fans expressed their surprise at all the buzz and positive reactions, mainly because it has been tremendously difficult for Asian artists to break into the Indian market.

Many Indians are notoriously racist and homophobic, with comments that often bash male K-pop stars for wearing makeup or appearing ‘feminine.’ Common activities from Indian trolls on social media include calling these artists ‘gay,’ ‘girls’ and attacking K-pop fans for their tastes, so it has been difficult to sway the mainstream public towards K-pop. Can viral edits like this do a lot to change desi audiences’ minds? Bhatt isn’t too sure, but hopes he and his team can do their part to help. “With the response I’ve seen on the video, I think BTS already have a very huge fan base,” he says. “I don’t know if this is something that can help erase Indians’ preconceived notions of K-pop or perhaps create a more positive view of K-pop, but I hope it does.” For now, Bhatt hopes to expand on the company’s series of BTS video edits and create more with other Korean groups.

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