Man vs Wild : A win-win for Discovery, Brand Modi and Incredible India

Man vs Wild premiered on Monday night at 9 with Bear Grylls and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 

The build-up to the premiere was tremendous. There was also a lot of anticipation surrounding it because of the double P factor. Yes, Pulwama and Pakistan. 

The Congress allegation was that the attack in Pulwama sponsored by elements in Pakistan that killed 40 CRPF men took place around the time when Modi had gone to shoot for this documentary for Discovery at Jim Corbett National Park in February 2019. But the PMO made it clear that he was certainly not shooting at the time he came to know of the dastardly attack.

What was the entire documentary all about? To me as a viewer, there were five main takeaways. 

1. Brand Narendra Modi. This presented a different side to Modi – Wet, Cold, Adventurous, a sport, preparing a weapon to keep oneself safe in Tiger and Elephant territory. Modi is someone who understands the language of the forests, someone who had experienced life in the Himalayas so a very native kind of wisdom came to the fore. Though Bear thought he had made the PM experience something new on the coracle, Modi said this is how he used to live during his travel in the Himalayas. For Modi to look the way he did at his age, is certainly praiseworthy. 

A few of the questions, with Bear harping on Modi’s difficult childhood seemed a bit tutored and tailormade to underline his background. Given that Modi himself speaks about it quite often, Bear was not covering any new ground for the domestic audience unless he had the international audience in mind when he asked those questions.

2. Brand Indian Environment. The documentary gave the PM an opportunity to talk about the need to conserve the fragile environment so in that sense, it was appropriate messaging and very important. The PM spoke about carbon footprint and  Swachh Bharat mission as well. This also is a huge boost for tourism in Uttarkhand and the rest of India, not just Jim Corbett park. That the PM leads by example, being out there in the wild – there cannot be better advertisement for Indian wildlife and environment.

3. Inspirational. The message of positivity from the PM would be inspirational for the younger generation, not to look at life in pieces but as a whole, not to ever get disheartened because life is about ups and downs and when you are down, it means it is time to move up. As Bear reiterates at the end – never give up.

4. An important messaging came through almost by chance in the documentary. That the PM did not believe in killing anyone so he will keep the makeshift weapon for Bear’s sake and safety. In the context of the severe criticism he has been subjected to – whether over Gujarat in 2002 or the latest instances of mob lynching in many parts of India, this message of strongly believing in peace and non-violence was Important and hopefully the message would have gone across to everyone concerned.

5. Lastly about the production of this documentary. The editing was top notch, very clever and very smart. The rain added to the drama but more drama was created more on the editing table than it was in real. 

You know it because Bear obviously does not understand Hindi and a translator would have been at hand to make him understand what Modi was saying so it was not as if two men were out in the wild all alone. There is no way the SPG would have been too far and you could see how many of them were around the PM when the documentary ended. In any case, a significantly large crew of Discovery would have been around as well to film the duo. 

Also this was no Khatron ke khilaadi. Maybe because of security concerns but those familiar with the format have pointed out that this was one of the most tame episodes. I personally got the impression that Modi was not in sync with the title of the show – Man vs Wild. His utterances through the show made it seem he was in favour of Man and Wild which I think is commendable. It is a live and let live philosophy.

Over all, a good effort. It would have garnered tremendous TRPs for Discovery channel. The PM’s critics will say the PR was all for him and make unflattering comparisons with Jawaharlal Nehru’s Discovery of India. But there will be advantages for India as well – in terms of tourism, wildlife conservation and environment as well. 

P.S. The BJP is kicked about the show. Tejesvi Surya, the young MP from Bengaluru for instance, arranged a special live screening at a cinema hall for flood relief volunteers. 

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