It can be safely said that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi knows how to spring surprises.
The International Day of Yoga celebrations in India saw the world witness his dexterous sun salutations, while the image of him meditating in a Himalayan cave amidst elections was splashed on prime time news around the globe.
So, is it really far out of the realm of possibility that Modi would take another giant leap that would pit him against Mother Nature and emerge a winner?
The Indian PM’s escapade into the unknown has been captured by Discovery Channel on its docu-series,' Man Vs Wild', with world renowned survivalist and adventurer Bear Grylls.
The much-anticipated adventure in the Indian outback is set to air on August 24 in the UAE, timed perfectly with Modi’s two-day official visit to these shores, where he will be presented with the civilian honour of the Order of Zayed at a special banquet on the same day.
“For years, I have lived among nature, in the mountains and the forests. These years have a lasting impact on my life. So when I was asked about a special programme focusing on life beyond politics and that too in the midst of nature I was both intrigued and inclined to take part in it,” said Modi in a press statement.
“For me, this show presents a great opportunity to showcase to the world India’s rich environmental heritage and stress on the importance of environment conservation and living in harmony with nature. It was a great experience spending time in the jungle once again, this time with Bear, who is blessed with indefatigable energy and quest to experience nature at its purest,” he added.
Grylls is no novice in his celebrity-led adventures, having toured the wild with heads of state such as then US President Barack Obama, along with several A-list Hollywood stars. But the Modi coup has given Grylls newfound fame amidst Indians.
Despite the polarised reviews ('The Guardian' called the special a ‘Putin-style propaganda exercise’), Grylls celebrated its success on Twitter. “Officially the world’s most trending televised event! With 3.6 billion impressions! (Beating Super Bowl 53 which had 3.4 billion social impressions.) Thank you everyone who tuned in!” he posted.
As UAE viewers watch the Indian PM and intrepid explorer take to the wild, here’s everything we know about the episode and want went behind making it...
It was filmed in Jim Corbett National Park
The setting for this special ‘Man Vs Wild’ episode is a fitting one with the Jim Corbett National Park spearheading India’s Project Tiger conservation programme that was launched in April 1973, ironically during the late Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s tenure.
The national park, which is a part of the Corbett Tiger Reserve, is located in the Indian state of Uttarakhand and is home to more than 650 endangered species of birds and other animals, including elephants, different species of deer and the tiger of course.
The park covers an area of 520 square kilometres, taking travellers on an adventure through rolling hills, lush grasslands and a frothy river that snakes through the landscape. Incidentally, Jim Corbett — whom the park is named after — was a British hunter, naturalist and author who was notorious for shooting down man-eating tigers and leopards in India during the early 1900s.
In the special episode, Modi is seen ticking all the boxes during his reported 45-minute shoot. The Indian prime minister and Grylls are seen as modern-day trackers and hunters, trekking through the grasslands with a makeshift spear in hand, squatting by the riverbank as dusk falls and capping things off by floating down a river in a tiny dinghy.
For those of you inspired to explore the natural wonders of the park following this episode, it might be good to know that the Corbett National Park allows overnight stays. To move around within the park, you can book yourself into a Jeep safari or an elephant safari (not one that we would recommend).
Parallels with Barack Obama
It is only natural to try and draw parallels between former US President Obama’s adventure on ‘Running Wild’ — the NBC reality show where Grylls guided him on a trek through the Alaskan wilderness — and Modi’s turn on ‘Man vs Wild’.
However, Grylls later claimed he went ‘easy’ on the president, for obvious reasons. During an appearance on the Jonathan Ross show, the naturalist spoke about how special toilets had to be put up during the episode for Obama’s convenience.
“I did go easy on him… We had to go a little softer in that sense,” the survivalist said during the interview. He further added: “We had like 60 Secret Service snipers in the mountains, I’m not joking we had the whole four helicopters in the air, it was a crazy whole machine to watch.”
According to sources quoted in the Economic Times, the Indian prime minister’s Special Protection Group or SPG cover was also following their charge at a safe distance.
Grylls wilderness survival skills are legendary and he’s never been shy of asking his celebrity guests to push their limits while conquering the wild — remember Courtney Cox eating maggots dug out of the carcass of a sheep in the Irish Highlands?
Obama, meanwhile, was asked to chow down on a half-eaten salmon that a bear had left behind during their Alaskan adventure.
Incidentally, Grylls later appeared on Absolute Radio’s ‘Christian O’Connell Breakfast Show’ to say that the duo ignored the diktat set by the Secret Service. “If he [Obama] was eating anything, then it had to be approved by his chef, as did anything he drank, and that he couldn’t do anything too dangerous, but on the day I decided to just wing it,” Grylls said.
While details about Modi’s appearance on ‘Man vs Wild’ have been kept under wraps, it would be interesting to see if the Indian PM is game to the adventure, especially keeping in mind that he’s vegetarian.
All we can see in the promo is Modi holding a flask by the riverbed, while the makeshift dinghy lies abandoned on the banks.
PM Modi’s episode was filmed on February 14, mere hours, if not minutes, before the Pulwama attack in Jammu and Kashmir where a suicide bomber charged into a convoy of Central Reserve Police Force officers that resulted in the deaths of 48 people.
For years, I lived among nature, in the mountains and the forests. These years have a lasting impact on my life
Critics have pointed out that it was due to Modi’s wilderness adventure that the Indian prime minister reacted late to the terrorist attack.
However, government sources cited in the Economic Times refuted the claims, saying that Modi only shot for about 45 minutes for the Discovery Channel show and filming ended by 3pm on the day, a full 30 minutes before the Pulwama attack unfolded.
The government source quoted by the Indian daily said: “It was never denied that the shoot took place on February 14. However, the same was over before the attack took place. The PM was in and out in 45 minutes by 3pm.”
The source further said that the PM was on an official visit to Uttarakhand that day as well, attending a series of events, including attending a political rally in the city of Rudrapur, which was later addressed via a mobile phone around 5pm due to weather delays.
Elsewhere, critics claimed that Modi may have been unaware of the Pulwama attack until much later due to his remote location in the park, coupled by a delay in the shoot caused by bad weather.
Don’t miss it!
‘Man vs Wild’ with Bear Grylls and PM Modi airs in the UAE on August 24 at 10pm on Discovery Channel.
OTHER STARS WITH BEAR GRYLLS
TV host and survivalist Bear Grylls has taken many a celebrity friend on an adventure through the wilderness. We pick our top moments:
Channing Tatum: On ‘Running Wild With Bear Grylls’, the Hollywood star took a walk in the Californian wilderness with the TV host, as they hunted for food. Grylls fed Tatum a scorpion to whet his appetite before the actor beheaded a snake and later helped gut it to create what they call ‘snake rings’. Wendy’s, eat your heart out.
Mel B: This was perhaps one of the most bizarre and controversial moments for Grylls when he set out on adventure with Scary Spice through Wales. The duo encountered a jellyfish, which ends up stinging the TV host. Ever the trouper, Mel B didn’t hesitate to urinate on Grylls’ hand to dilute the sting. Ouch!
Michelle Rodriguez: The ‘Fast and Furious’ star pulled a Mel B as well, only this time in a container deep in the Nevada desert. Why, you ask? Oh, because Grylls needed to boil a dead mouse they stumbled across for dinner.
Keri Russell: ‘The Americans’ star showed us her survival skills when she sportingly spooned a broth of rabbit waste and bird guts, although not before hoping she would die of asphyxiation from the smoke rising from the pit.
Don't miss it!
Man vs Wild with Bear Grylls and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi airs in the UAE on August 24 at 10pm and again on August 25 at 3.20am on the Discovery Channel.