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Better known for his exploits facing Bollywood film cameras, when we were told of Ajay Devgn being the latest name to accompany famed survivalist Bear Grylls on one of his epic wilderness adventures we were initially surprised. Is the Indian actor especially outdoorsy, we questioned? It was then pointed out that Spice Girl Mel B and former US President Barack Obama aren’t particularly renowned for their camping skills, though their previous Into The Wild-style episodes (variations on the title are numerous) are among the most memorable.
The discovery+ exclusive Into The Wild with Bear Grylls & Ajay Devgn is available to view via StarzPlay and Jawwy TV now. In it the British Special Forces alumnus and Tanhaji (2020) star embark on an gruelling experience beginning in shark-infested Indian Ocean waters before moving to the area's uninhabited islands. Candid conversations with Devgn develop on the journey taking in his family, career and views on life. We spoke to Grylls to find out more about the experience and what he hopes to do in Dubai in the future.
How was the latest installment with Ajay Devgn?
To get to take some of these iconic Indian superstars away and hear their story is always a privilege. I think Ajay was definitely a challenging one. A desert island is always tough. You’ve got extreme weather, you’ve got sharks in the water and you’ve got snakes on the islands and sharp coral everywhere. They can be really unforgiving places and Ajay was obviously a rookie. I’m always very respectful of the fact that they trust me with their lives. It was a really revealing one for me. He was incredibly honest, and to hear some of his journey and his struggles that have been a big part of his life away from the chat show couches; to actually get to know the man was special. He was a humble, hardworking, family-centred good guy.
Are you ever surprised by how open people are during these trips?
The wild doesn’t judge them. The wild is a safe place. I think once you’ve gone through a few scary moments side-by-side, you’ve fallen over and helped each other back up, that creates strong bonds with people. And I think that then sets a safe space to be able to talk about the real stuff of life, not just the fluff of their movie. I love that dynamic. For me it’s the magic of the show.
What continues to inspire you to keep doing these dangerous adventures?
It is what I love. It’s one of the few things in my life I’m okay at. Adventure was there long before the TV cameras and I hope that adventure will be there long after the TV cameras have gone. But I think for me, the Running Wild and the Into the Wild have brought a whole new dimension to my work. I think a lot of the early Man vs Wild days were amazing and a huge privilege and incredible to do, but ultimately, just showing skills. Here I get to do it with amazing people and to hear their stories and encourage them. I never take that for granted.
What is an experience from this one and a past show that really sticks in your mind?
I think with Ajay it was initially that first shock once you’re dropped on an island and the helicopter goes and the wider crew all leave. It’s just him and me and the camera man and the sound guy and one other. I think generally one of the strongest memories for me is always going to be the Obama one. It’s such a privilege to take a sitting president on an adventure and to go into the wild with the most powerful guy on our planet, to show him some of the harsh realities of climate change close up. We often read about stuff, we see it on the telly, but ultimately it becomes personal when you can see the actual effects.
Did Ajay teach you anything about Bollywood or India, specifically?
I’m always so interested in the Bollywood stuff. It’s why I love doing these shows in India. I love all the little quirks and the way they’re treated over there. I remember Rajinikanth showing me the little twirl he does with his sunglasses. Whenever I’m in India, if I do that, everyone knows instantly where I got it from. It’s truly one of the most remarkable countries on Earth in terms of their mountains and forests and jungles and deserts and coastline, but I love the people.
And is there any plan to come to the UAE with a show?
Well, we’re definitely planning doing more in the Middle East. Actually, I really want to do more in the UAE. I would love to take the Crown Prince Fazza (Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai) on a UAE journey and hear his vision for Dubai and Expo and the future of the region. I think that would be such an interesting one for people there. He’s such a humble, adventure-centred, fun guy. We’ve met briefly, but I think that will be a great one to do. I love the Middle East. I love coming out there.
What still scares you?
Lots of things scare me. I think as I get older those fears grow. I’m definitely not fearless. I’ve learnt in my life how to get over the fears, which is always keep moving towards the difficult stuff and not run from them. I still find skydiving – ever since my free-fall accident in the military - really hard, but I do so much of it for my work. And it’s a conscious choice. I find I get quite anxious with big groups of people too. But I face that head-on.
Grylls’ autobiography Never Give Up has just released. “It’s all the success. It’s all the failure,” the 47-year old said. “It has taken 10 years to write and I hope people enjoy it.”
Watch the discovery+ production Into The Wild with Bear Grylls & Ajay Devgn on streaming platforms StarzPlay and Jawwy TV
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