'Man vs Wild' with Modi review: Much ado about nothing

People watch on television the 'Man VS Wild' hosted by survival expert Bear Grylls, going on a mission with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (C), in Amritsar on August 12, 2019. (AFP)

Featuring: Bear Grylls, Narendra Modi

Score: 1.5/5 stars

Let’s get this out of the way first: There is no way Man vs Wild would be a remotely serious expedition when the fate of the leader of India, much less any country, is concerned with it. That being said, the sheer tameness of the episode is a major let-down, especially if you’ve followed the series in the past.

That is not to say the series is a serious look into surviving in the wild. If you’ve followed past controversies, you’ll know that Discovery came under fire from survival experts for staging at least some scenes and the show had to change significantly for that. But that’s a tale for another day.

In this episode, we see Bear Grylls take Prime Minister Narendra Modi through what should be a moderately danger-filled trek through Jim Corbett National Park given how much the intro to the episode describes the dangers of the region. However, it all goes out the window in the first 10 minutes, when it becomes apparent that the two are only following the path of least resistance – granted it is required since Modi is the Prime Minister, but this feels like a child-friendly cartoon rather than the how-to-survive guide that the series came to be known for.

Corbett Park, as Grylls so admirably affirms, is one of the biggest biological preserves in India and houses the most number of Bengal tigers in any one place. Apart from that, the area is also known to be home to elephants, crocodiles, snakes and a whole host of bird species. However, for all that talk, the only wild animals we get to see are in isolated bits of footage, with their presence having absolutely no effect whatsoever on this supposedly ‘dangerous’ trek. It’s more like taking a stroll through Cubbon Park with just the odd bird chirping as disturbance. The only remotely risky thing that we see Grylls and Modi do is cross a river in a rather impressive, although pre-made, makeshift raft.

On the other hand, we have the talk about ‘conservation’ from Modi, and yet that occupies maybe five minutes of time at the end. For most of the episode, it feels more like a rerun of whatever you’ve heard Modi and the BJP talk about from his early days with a few extra details thrown in (Modi apparently brought a crocodile baby home once as a child but wasn’t allowed to keep it). For about 50 minutes of episode, it’s roughly 10 minutes of waiting, 30 minutes of Modi and Grylls talking about Modi’s early days and how his upbringing has shaped his world view, five minutes of talking about the Indians’ connect with nature and five minutes of actual (short-lived) survival work.

As a marketing exercise for Prime Minister Modi, the episode is a great success. As an episode that generally thrives on showing how to survive? It’s a monumental loss of potential. With Modi’s vegetarian lifestyle, it would’ve been easy to show how one could survive in the wild off the fruits and leaves there, but that would likely be too risky to allow for the Prime Minister of India. Grylls did his best under his restrictions, but that clearly shows in the overall quality of the episode.

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