Man vs Wild: Why Narendra Modi Was More Entertaining than Barack Obama

Humour

Man vs Wild: Why Narendra Modi Was More Entertaining than Barack Obama

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

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ear Grylls is probably the only man on Earth who has gone on nature hikes with both Barack Obama and Narendra Modi. World leaders don’t usually have time to take a stroll in the park, but Grylls and Discovery Channel managed to get two of the most popular ones to take a trek through the wilderness. Of course, given the lofty positions his guests occupied, Grylls couldn’t provide us the usual thrills his shows promise. After all, this is a man who has drank his own urine, jumped out of choppers, and eaten disturbingly questionable-looking bugs, which are not the kind of thing you want to see the leader of your country doing on TV.

Naturally, both Running Wild with Bear Grylls and Man vs Wild had to make adjustments for Obama and Modi respectively. In reining in his more extreme antics, what Bear Grylls has done is pioneer an entirely new form of TV show – the political stump speech masquerading as a reality show. Some will argue that it was actually The Apprentice starring Donald Trump that broke this ground, but I would argue that it’s the other way around – Trump’s term is a car-crash of a reality show masquerading as a Presidential tenure. It’s a fine distinction, but an important one.

Returning to Modi, Obama, and their stints on Bear Grylls’ shows, what we can see is that politics is no longer limited to halls of government or campaign rallies. The politicians of the 21st century are dynamic creatures, with active social media handles, weekly radio shows like Modi’s Mann ki Baat, and Netflix deals like Obama’s that allow them to reach out to their bases. Traipsing through the great outdoors accompanied by Bear Grylls and a camera crew (which never films their massive security detail) is tame stuff in comparison, no matter how prominently the word “wild” is featured in the title.

The Modi wave raised another boat, the one that carried Discovery’s TRPs, but did it measure up to POTUS’s appearance?

This brings us to the most-pressing question: Who did it better? The Modi wave raised another boat, the one that carried Discovery’s TRPs, but did it measure up to POTUS’s appearance? As a person who has watched so many episodes of Man vs Wild that I try to tell the time of day by the position of the sun, I’ve come up with fan’s index to measure their performances and come up with a definitive answer.

Theme

The Modi and Obama episodes differed from the norm in that they both had very clear themes, as opposed to the usual “Bear Grylls does crazy shit” format they usually follow. While both emphasised the importance of reconnecting with nature, Modi’s episode was announced in conjunction with the latest rise in population of tigers in India’s forests and stressed on the importance of conservation, while Obama’s was set against the backdrop of a melting glacier and focussed on the looming threat of climate change. Watching the Modi episode, you would have felt optimistic about the planet’s future, thinking that with the right leaders making the right decision, we can save endangered species and shrinking forests. The Obama episode was altogether more worrying, with the visual reminder of the melting glacier making it evident that climate change is a very real threat. Those with eco-anxiety should steer clear.

Winner: Modi

Score: Modi 1-0 Obama

Banter

A daredevil adventurer and a stuffy politician are the oddest of odd couples, and the contrast can make for some genuinely fun viewing, if the chemistry is right. Unfortunately for one of our contenders, that chemistry was missing during their time with Grylls. Maybe it was the language barrier, or maybe it was the philosophical differences, but Modi and Grylls didn’t click during their episode. Grylls spoke in English and Modi in Hindi while an off-screen translator was presumably the go-between, which meant their conversation had an unnatural, stilted tone. In contrast, Obama and Grylls found plenty to joke about during their time in Alaska, with Obama accusing Bear of passing gas at one point, and even joining hands in a prayer. If one of Obama’s Netflix shows doesn’t feature him and Grylls in a buddy comedy, it’s a criminal waste.

Winner: Obama

Score: Modi 1-1 Obama

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Modi got into the action by crossing a fast-moving river with Grylls in a rubber dinghy, getting thoroughly soaked without letting it dampen his spirits.

Man Vs Wild/ Discovery Channel

Adventure

Okay, even though politicians need to be handled with care, you can’t call a show Running Wild or Man vs Wild and feature them doing nothing but sniffing roses. Grylls’ usual routine of doing things that would kill the average person is off the table, but a little drama goes a long way when trying to present the episode’s guest as a rugged outdoorsman. In this field, Modi wins because the most strenuous activity Obama got up to with Grylls was walking up a slope. Yes it was in chilly Alaska, and yes it was in grizzly bear territory, but with a team of Secret Services lurking just out of frame, there was no real danger of anyone getting mauled. Meanwhile, Modi got into the action by crossing a fast-moving river with Grylls in a rubber dinghy, getting thoroughly soaked without letting it dampen his spirits. And if Obama had the unlikely danger of a bear attack, Modi (or his Z-level Security at least) had to be on the lookout for tigers, which is even worse, as anyone who has seen The Jungle Book will attest.

Winner: Modi

Score: Modi 2-1 Obama

Food

The height of gastronomy on a Bear Grylls show was when he made actress Michelle Rodriguez eat a fish stewed in her own urine in the name of survival. Dining options on these shows are severely limited, as you might have guessed. Even Obama had to settle for a grizzly bear’s leftovers, scavenging a half-eaten salmon from the riverbank before roasting it over a fire. Modi, a staunch vegetarian, was not going to indulge in the grub-foraging and carrion-eating that Obama did. So he did what every good Indian welcoming a guest does and treated Grylls to piping hot cup of chai once the episode wound down. For providing chai, the ultimate comfort, in the wild heart of the Jim Corbett Tiger Reserve, Modi takes home the food category as well, coasting to an easy win.

Winner: Modi

Final Score: Modi 3-1 Obama

The champion has emerged, and it is Narendra Modi. If any politician is looking to win over new fans with a TV appearance, they could do much worse than following his example. The show might have been called Man vs Wild, but NaMo was the real winner.

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