Shailesh Kapoor: Man Vs. No Wild: Great Marketing, Bizarre Content

16 Aug,2019

By Shailesh Kapoor


Calling it a coup will not be an overstatement. The Discovery Channel, known widely in India for its flagship adventure show Man vs. Wild, managed to put together a special episode with PM Narendra Modi. The episode, telecast Monday (Aug 12) in India, had the show’s anchor, the inimitable Bear Grylls, taking Modi on a walk-and-raft trip through the Jim Corbett National Park.

It is easy to guess that the marketing-savvy Modi would have seen this as an unusual method to connect with the country, and would have seen the opportunity of getting a platform to express his thoughts on environment and its conservation. That Barack Obama, among other fancied celebrities, has featured on the show, would have given Modi enough reassurance to take the plunge.

The show was heavily promoted by Discovery. And by the weekend leading up to its telecast, the episode had got a life of its own, driving social media conversations and responses.

The actual episode itself, though, was a damp squib. I wasn’t expecting Modi to go the Grylls way by experimenting with food, given the former’s vegetarian food choices. But the 40-minutes long journey through the Himalayan forests (Grylls repeatedly reminded us how dangerous they could be) was an exercise in inertness. Walking through the wilds, with your “secret service” shadowing you, may be mildly adventurous, but it certainly doesn’t pass the Man vs. Wild quality test.

A large chunk of the show was about Modi’s ‘Mann Ki Baat’ with Grylls, where the Prime Minister was quizzed on his childhood, his tryst with the Himalayas, his love for the nature, his parents and other such personal topics. We have heard some of this before, and some was new. But this is no Rendezvous With Simi Garewal, and the lengthy chat-ups seemed like fillers, covering up for the evident lack of actual adventure.

But what really irked me no ends was the language in which these chat-ups happened. Modi spoke 80% Hindi, and Grylls, evidently not familiar at all with the language, had little to contribute by the way of an actual conversation. He put up a brave act, smiling and nodding in generic but appropriate ways, ensuring that the audience felt he was comprehending the incomprehensible. I was looking for a translator lurking in the background, but no, there was none. On a couple of occasions, Grylls could actually pick up some English words or hand gestures used by Modi, to respond in slightly more specific terms.

I can’t get over the ridiculousness of the linguistic dysfunctionality of the episode. It’s like watching an interview show where the host cannot understand what the guest is saying. And yet, the host has to pull the show through, based on his common sense and experience. If Modi was reluctant to speak at length in English, an off-camera translator should have surely been a possible way to fix this bizarre communication method.

The raft journey towards the end was arguably the most adventurous part of the show, more because Grylls had to wade his way through the water, and could use the word “balls” in front of Modi, and even get the PM to laugh at it. But it was a case of too-little, too-late.

What will this special episode do to The Discovery Channel? It may get the brand strong recognition, leading to acquisition of some new viewers. We would get a sense of that through the ratings over the next few weeks. The episode, by all means, can be termed as a huge marketing success, even though the content was a letdown from the get go.

PS: I think I should soon write about five Indian TV shows that Modi should feature as a guest on.



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