Trust the first visuals of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the special episode of Man vs Wild to be a 'Piece to the Camera' or a PTC.
The episode would have also possibly ended with it if it had not been for the fact that he was not the anchor, a job held by Bear Grylls formally christened as Edward Michael Grylls.
Yet, Modi still had his sign off – how the experience was a delight. It mirrored the opening bit – the excitement at the impending ‘wild’ experience with Grylls (and unknown number of Discovery crew and security service and other members of his retinue).
There is near certainty that the episode would have been scheduled for telecast in the middle of the election season but got pushed back because of the unfortunate terror attack in Pulwama.
The Episode in the Pulwama Incident Backdrop
If one rewinds to the days before the dastardly act, the Bharatiya Janata Party was reconciled to a worrying ride on an ebbing current. It was evident that unless the party or its leader succeeded in building a national narrative to ride over economic distress, the party was faced with a herculean challenge to come back to power.
In that situation, Modi’s spin doctors, efficient team that they are, would have certainly conjured numerous ways to ramp up the prime minister’s declining personal popularity. And, being featured in an episode of Man vs Wild would have certainly helped.
After his December 2015 show featuring American President, Barack Obama, Grylls had said how "it was amazing and it was a phone call I never thought we’d get when The White House rang up and said, 'He’s a fan of the show, would you ever take him to Alaska or on an adventure?' I thought it was one of my buddies doing a spoof".
In the pre-telecast period, after Grylls made public the first details of the episode late last month, there were several publicity interviews of the anchor on his experience with India's most important man.
Yet, there was no word on the Pulwama incident and if it had any way impinged the programme or Modi's mood. The only word on this was from unnamed government sources and they said the "PM was in and out in 45 minutes by 3 pm", a good 30 minutes before the Pulwama terrorist attack.
But when news of Modi filming for the episode became public in February, photos had shown him in his standard kurta-pyajama outfit making it obvious that besides the actual filming, Modi spent time in the national park and its facilities.
Reiterating The Alpha Male Position
But, officials are there to misinform: The same unidentified official also claimed that the two on the show made the raft to cross the jungle river. Whereas, Grylls stated on the programme that he prepared it a day in advance.
Although Man vs Wild has a global viewership and there is a limited audience for both Discovery and the programme, Modi's target audience was Indian given that he conversed in Hindi despite being comfortable chatting in English.
The strategy was the same – awe Indian audiences at Modi's capacity to have global personalities, be it presidents, prime ministers or even anchors, eating out of his hands.
The intention was to show Modi perform a few superhuman feats, reiterating his position as the Alpha Male, the man with a 56 inch chest capable of roaming the wild and putting body and soul to immense risk, all to showcase India’s natural diversity in its purest form.
In a TV show hosted by another popular anchor, Grylls confessed to going 'easy' on Obama: "I did go easy on him… We had to go a little softer in that sense." At any time in future, if Grylls ever opens up about Modi and this episode, he would likely say that he went 'easier' on the Indian PM.
Evidence of this is not tough to locate: Modi did not eat anything, unlike Obama who despite Secret Service advice went ahead consuming a half-eaten salmon that a bear left behind.
The only ‘wild’ thing which Modi consumed was identified as ‘sweet neem’ or kari patta and Grylls put it into a flask of hot water which later in the programme became tea!
Besides the way the programme was filmed, what Modi said is also important. He talked about his childhood and repeated stories about his tea-selling days.
The bonus for Grylls was that he got Modi to narrate his incredulous “baby crocodile” story.
When I wrote his biography, this tale was heard chiefly as folklore on the banks of the Sharmishtha lake in Vadnagar and the subject made no mention of this incident.
But he had told me about the time he went away from home as a seventeen-year-old. However, he revealed little, saying he hoped to write one day about this period in life. Grylls was obviously briefed to mention that as a young man, Modi had spent time in the wild. While crossing the river, Modi incredulously said he had been doing such things all his life.
He also said that deprivation did not allow him to buy soap for bathing or washing clothes, that he used salt that crystalised after dew drops evaporated. This was used as soap and detergent.
Neither Grylls asked nor Modi explained what was done during summers when there would be no dew!
Grylls must be a brave man for he asked how Modi saw his life beyond politics. But there are certainly limits to his bravery for he did not persist with the question when the prime minister replied with a thank you for everything.
Since 2014, there have been numerous additions to the Modi visual gallery. Man vs Wild is yet another encounter between two celebrities, quite like the Akshay Kumar interview. The only difference being that Grylls took him to the international audience.
But, Modi did precious little to woo them. As far as the Indian viewer is concerned, those who would watched the show are already on the list of supporters or ‘converts’.
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