One month back team KHigh was approached by the new company NAMAS-K with a solid plan and the will to do amazing things for Indian K-Pop fans.
Since then we’ve not looked back and due to them India saw what Mr. Yogesh says (co. CEO of NAMAS-K) “not just a wave but a tsunami” in the form of IN2ITxION!
After Delhi wrap up when we all came back to Mumbai I got the chance to sit with them and pick their mind with my ever so curious questions and they were kind enough to humor me. Throughout our conversation I can say my faith that, truly the time for hallyu in India is ripe, has been restored steadfast and I was left amazed by the business model and vision both founders Keiko bang and Yogesh Karikurve have for India.
They are both charming personalities with years of experience and a freshness of childlike zest!
KHigh: I’d like to begin by asking that you share with us your background and how long have you been in the business world?
Yogesh: So, I’ve been in the industry for more than two decades, i started with companies like Britannia, Loreal and later on moved to media. I’ve been in media for one decade now, my last stint was with Zee as business head for Asia-Pacific, also worked with Times of India, Reliance Entertainment International films, had an entrepreneurial stint for 5 years where i presented Indian movies in International markets, so largely the passion has always been to connect India to other countries.
I met Keiko 5 years ago and only last year did we reconnect, where she enlightened me about the world of K-Pop and how its taking over my country (India).
Keiko: When i mentioned it to him, he said there’s nothing like that and then later on he calls me and says “You were right!”
*they look at me laughing and continue to answer*
Yogesh: Yeah. Well as i did more digging the more excited i got about it and as a person who looks for India and global connection i had to grasp this opportune moment, do our best to bring K-Pop and give wind to the Hallyu wave in India. Keiko comes from a very in depth and culturally rich background, please take it on Keiko!
Keiko: Thank you Yogesh!
Well my father’s Japanese and my mother’s an American, the marriage happened at a time when it was very rare for an interracial marriage to happen let alone an Asian marry an American. I was raised with a mix of cultures which has propelled in me an interest in learning different cultures from an early age. I got my degree in political science but as it so happens one of my first major job was to be the correspondent for CNN. I married my husband and really moved into the news business. I worked NHK, American ABC news, i was also the first correspondant to be hired for Network which is now CNBC out of Hong Kong. I did these for a while but it wasn’t really satisfying so i started my own Documentary Production company in Hong Kong in 1995, for the first 10 years of our company we were producing 70% of the original productions on Discovery Channel and things like that! Being a producer it constantly forces you to look for funds for the new projects you want to do, i was very interested in History, Archaeology, Culture and Science and it was very difficult as i wanted to do extremely high end documentaries which is really expensive it then got me to reach out to advertisers and sponsors from an early start. Many were ready to put the money on the table but would require us to do some content from them and that’s how i got into branded content, it wasn’t even called that back then.
By 2006 our company was listed as one of the top Documentary productions in top 100 across the world. I also worked with the Incredible India Campaign back in 2004, I started helping the government – private sectors and media, i also the serve as an advisor to the Asia Pacific Broadcasting Union. All of this peaked my interest in media, opening me to new things, technologies that kept coming like AR-VR, there are documentaries created by robots, it’s all been very fascinating to me!
KHigh: What was your first encounter with the world of K-Pop?
Keiko: This entire time, i started getting involved into K-Pop, specially when i did a commercial with K-Pop star called Rain. After one month after he left JYP and only has his team who had worked with him from the beginning, he knew nobody, i remember he was performing in the USA was getting sued by their government over licence issues which is horrible and terrifying for-then a 25 year old boy! I got a call from his manager and helped them through some tight spots, it was then when his manager mentioned how we did documentaries and if we would like to do something on Rain? I instantly thought it was a great idea Rain has an incredible story. I spoke to Discovery who then told me they were already in talks with the Seoul government and wanted us to do two contents. So we did 1 hour on Lee Byun Hun (Top Korean Actor) and another one on Rain.I was asked to do something on K-Pop again and decided to work with YG. While working on our film in the editing suite we had this slate focusing on the artists 2NE1, BIGBANG and Psy, i thought why not look at the fandoms, before this I had never watched a fan video. I told my editor i’ll look up some videos on YouTube and will be back tomorrow, i didn’t go back.
For one month i did not leave my room all i did was watch the world of K-Pop through fans, i ended up watching 4000 videos!
I was blown away… their passion, intelligence, uber organising skills, so incredible! I wanted to adopt half of these fans i saw in the clips, they would talk so profoundly and knowingly, how this was a phase but a memory for lifetime, something they can tell their grandchild. I was observing all of this from data perspective to the influence of women online. I was very interested in its growth in India because the rest of Asia was already going crazy over it, people would tell me that K-Pop craze stops at Indonesia and India is one tough market to crack into. I never believed it. I think it first started with North East India and spreading to other regions, i remember watching fan video back in 2013 where girls in Delhi metro said “hey you can’t call it a global tour if you don’t add India” it all fascinated me so much and i knew Indian fans felt left out. We spoke to Korean entertainment companies they told us they were aware of the clicks they get from India but organising a concert they just didn’t know who to go to, “will it work in India?”, “will it sell?” etc.
Yogesh: For me I’ll take a step back, look at it from an Indian perspective, I’ve been associated with music and dance in India for the longest time. I was invited to speak on the influence of world music on Bollywood in Kazakhstan, I soon realised how Bollywood music that is so popular is actually composed of music from around the world. I’ll admit I missed out on the K-pop phenomenon that was creating an underground movement now very much above it. Also because it wasn’t adopted in Bollywood, please understand that in India nothing becomes popular unless adopted by Bollywood or cricketers you know…
I met Keiko again in a film festival in Seoul at the end of which I taught 200 filmmakers some Bollywood steps! I got a call from one of the producers from their saying they’d like to do a documentary on Bollywood and K-pop comparing both and signifying both Asian phenomenons taking over globally. So I flew back to Seoul and visited some K-pop schools. I learnt a lot from interacting with trainees and we also met IN2IT. I realised the gravity of it and how it’s been already picked up and ready to take off in India. I went through the education of K-pop in less than 3 months thanks to all the interactions and learnings I got, thanks to Keiko.
We grabbed on to the KFest opportunity because if not for the IN2IT performance it would have just been a simple affair but we thought adding k-pop groups followed by concert would be a perfect push to this wave that is turning into a tsunami! It’s not easy to aggregate fandoms as their are so many and each have their own personality thanks to KPOP High India for being such a help! Our focus is to bring all the islands together for the massive tsunami of k-pop in India !
KHigh: Please elaborate for us your take on K-Pop and India?
Keiko: When Chinese companies pulled out of the Korean industry due to the ban in China the K industry faced a massive loss it is then they realised they can’t depend on one market, slowly they started expanding globally to America, South America, Europe etc. But everyone would look at India and think how do we do this and am really grateful to have someone like Yogesh who had exactly the right kind of network, the right outlook and understanding of different cultures. I think with our timing being great and Korean government here in India like KCCI & KTo have been doing an amazing job and are very enthusiastic they love India but they’re also struggling because private sectors need to step up there’s only so much a government agency can do.
So when IN2IT came here their manager got a lot of calls from the Korean industry as she’s a veteran, asking her about the Indian market response and they were all amazed with the feedback they received! We met with large labels in Korea and we’re convinced we’ll be able to do a bigger concert towards the end of the year, that’ll be something that people have been waiting for!
KHigh: Since when has India been on your radar for investment in the Hallyu wave?
Keiko: As I said i have been watching the fandom for quite some time now but what really caught my eye is the digital voting and how India kept ranking so high in the charts it would be 12, 10 I also saw a 3 once, I mean that’s huge you can see the millions of votes the digital presence of Indian fans wowed me! I could really see the tipping point last year. As for business both cultures have this feel where we don’t want to do business unless we know someone who knows the one we have to do business, it just paves for accountability and helps break the ice so lots of people are interested but no one wants to take the dive, that’s where we come in building the bridge between both the countries!
KHigh: What are your views on the “Fluttering India” the KBS show that failed and might have left false impressions on both sides?
Keiko: I have to say I don’t know the entire story and what went wrong but I feel so sorry for the fans. I think with India, people need to grasp that it’s diverse and what works everywhere might not work here and you have to respect that. As for KBS team I know some of them they are one of the biggest driving force for globalisation of k-pop and are very passionate, I guess it was just an unfortunate incident but am sure was not intended.
KHigh: “Bole Chudiya” performance has gone viral, we’re all loving it! Who came up with it?
Keiko: I came up with the idea of IN2IT to do something Bollywood, to see a mix of cultures would only project the beautiful goal! So we saw many songs like “Swag se swagat” but fans-16 yr olds, they told me no it’s too one sided and misogynist where the women are just dancing, they were the ones that suggested bole chudiya it has a warm feel, the right amount of expression, participation and is a Bollywood classic! We showed it to the boys and ALEXA and they… well did a fabulous job! We weren’t going to have costumes but in the end I thought well how hard is it, the boys had less time for change so we only did scarf for them but ALEXA had more duration so we got her the full costume. We got an amazing response and are still getting it, it’s all them they floored everyone with their impeccable skills!
I really want to thank Karan Johar for allowing us to use this beautiful track!
KHigh: Has Karan Johar reached out to you, what was his response?
Yogesh: Not yet directly, his office has been very helpful and they loved it which also lead to our first ever Bollywood X K-pop collaboration where IN2IT and ALEXA shot a cover dance for his upcoming film. So overall it’s been great and the entire team had acknowledged the collaboration.
KHigh: We at KPOP High India have got fans to tag all the star cast of K3G and SOTY at the respective videos!
Yogesh: Yes we saw, thank you!!
Also if you’ll notice Karan johar’s movies start with K and k-pop is… Well that should be his ultimate logic now.
*He ends chuckling*
KHigh: That’s just brilliant you should definitely let him know this factor because then he might be on board for so much more.
Yogesh: Well that’s the plan!
KHigh: Why was IN2IT your first choice for concert?
Keiko: The boys are very talented and they have come through lots of survival shows they have truly earned their credentials and I think deserve so much more. This is CJ E&M a big company like this hasn’t tested the Indian waters and I have worked with the CJ team earlier so I trusted them I knew they’d be willing to risk and be flexible they’re a great team!
Yogesh: When I first met them what really caught my attention was their song “Sorry for my English” you see in India buzz words help a lot it is really circulated well and our goal is not only to sustain the existing fans but also approach the common man. Also I researched their videos etc. and their talent was amazing I was really impressed. I really thought this group would be a good surprise to the people in India!
KHigh: How quick was the duration to launch this company called NAMAS-K?
Yogesh: I’d like to say it took us 1 day to get together. The operational work started and you could say in 6 months lot of the build was done and we launched.
Keiko: Also as a company we’re a data driven next generation company so till now what were just words we have it as analytical proofs. Also k-pop concerts heavily rely on selling of tickets which works in the west but will not in India so there was a need of a new business model of k-pop to work in India the alternative would be sponsors but to have them on board is a lot of work, so we’ve really dived in all of that and presented our new model to Korean agencies which at first they were skeptical but now we have so many sponsors calling us!
KHigh: So I can say NAMAS-K has a scientific approach!
Keiko: Yes that’s correct!
Also us working with Zany Bros and Rolling Stone India has got us more eye balls turning towards us.
KHigh: Please tell us more about your partnership with Zany Bros?
Keiko: I have known Zany Bros for a very long time and I wanted a Korean partner that’s neutral you know that won’t be restricted to one thing and Mr. Kim and his partner are such open minded and wonderful bunch of talent. I remember when we mentioned India they were so positive about it that all happened so quick and when you have Zany Bros on your side one would never worry about content! So to have culturally curious and people with positive attitude was so important to me to have in our team!
KHigh: I have to say I am amazed by the smart decisions you both have made be it Keiko approaching Yogesh and Yogesh being who he is to grab on to the bandwagon, your partnership with Zany brothers etc. I think people are not understanding the gravity of Zany Bros and NAMAS-K collab but once they see the content they will know. So thank you so much!
KHigh: What is your impression of the Indian audience?
Keiko: I think we hit the nerve at the right time, we’ve got everyone waking up to realise that k-pop can work in India from fans to advertiser’s to sponsors and even parents came up telling us how much fun they had! That’s what we set out for and I think we were more than successful. When we March ahead I am sure more and more people will join the tribe as its a celebration of benevolence K-pop spreads positivity gives fans strength and we are looking forward to our journey ahead. We had fans coming from North East India one from Darjeeling broke in tears upon meeting Alexa it has all been very heart warming!
I was asked to meet the Korean ambassador as the news about our drama deal was doing the rounds and in the meeting he seemed really enthusiastic and told us he’d like to come for the show well it was instant panic for me but he was so delighted, he had such a good time I think he got to witness the fandom love for k-pop first hand so it was amazing !
KHigh: What other ventures does NAMAS-K have lined up?
Keiko: Well we have so much in store, K-pop will definitely continue but we have just signed the deal with Zee5 for Korean dramas so we are so excited to launch that project. We’ll have Korean actors coming in, e-commerce!! You also need to stay tuned we have so much k-pop Bollywood collaborations in talks as well.
KHigh: Lastly I’d like to ask is a BTS, GOT7 OR EXO concert possible in India? Also I would like you to give suggestions to fans to – how can they help reach this goal?
Keiko: I can say it’s very positive maybe not a concert at first but other projects with these artists and then slowly build upto their concert! My one and only advice to the fans would be that I love that you have your bias but what really would help get more and more k-pop groups and big groups is the collective support of k ventures in India by all fans. If it’s a small concert all fans need to come together and make it successful because in the end the industry looks at facts and numbers and no one will take a big risk like that so a collaborative fandom would be the right message to send to Korea and be very helpful!
Yogesh: Yes I completely agree just like how Sunburn happened in India at first it was an experiment but now the biggest DJs are coming to India every year. We want K-pop to also sustain like a practice and not just another flash in the pan.
KHigh: Thank you so much for your patience and agreeing to have this detailed conversation, we are all looking forward to the revolution NAMAS-K has in store!
Keiko: Thank you to KPOP High India, truly you have been a huge support for us in this tour and without you it would have been difficult.
Yogesh: Yes Nikki thanks to you and your team!
Keiko: For us its always the fans that will be our number one priority so a heartfelt gratitude to Indian Fans we hear you and we love you!