In episode one of Mission Frontline, streaming on Discovery Plus, Rana Daggubati spends time with a company of the Border Security Force (BSF) at the remote Murar Outpost along the India-Pakistan border outside of Jaisalmer in Rajasthan.
There’s always a thin line you tread when you attempt to glamourise the valour of the army, for, beyond the emotional posturing, there are very real lives at stake, with soldiers usually fighting generational wars started and kept going by those who’ll never actually have to fight them. Luckily, Daggubati tends to stay on the right side of the line. He seems to keep his head down in respect, fully aware that in spite of the fact that there are cameras and a crew to keep him company as he’s used to, he’s still a fish completely out of water in that scenario (and I’m not talking about the desert.)
The 40-minute episode gives you a sense of what life would be at a place that needs to be manned 24 by 7, because irrespective of the leanings of government at the centre, the threat of insurgency across those lines is relentless. There could be days or weeks without action, but the possibility of it happening is all-pervasive. Every stray footprint in the sand dunes matters, and with high stakes at that.
Anyone who pauses to give it a thought will intuitively sense that life in the BSF is likely to be tougher than almost anything else one would choose to do. The terrain is harsh all along the border, the weather chipping away at the body of anyone exposed to it, day or night. And the conflict caused by those borders has caused decades of suffering, with no end in sight. Even if you are conscientiously aware of all of this, watching it may still give you goosebumps at some point, because you get a glimpse of the actual people who do that job; a job that in an ideal world must not even exist.
Daggubati joins the soldiers on their various drills that include running 3.2 kilometers within a set time, jumping across ditches, fireman drills, and even a simulated mission with fake ‘militants’; and he just about manages to keep up. In fact, it’s good to see him being pulled up for not responding to orders the right way. He may be the movie star on the shoot, but the Company Officer he’s reporting to during the drills is very much the boss. When Daggubati has to fire a real gun for the first time in his life, he seems excited but also positively terrified, taking a moment to soak it in, struggling to cock it with ease — it reminds you that this isn’t a movie.
The show sprinkles little factoids along the way, but you’ll have to do your own research if you want a thorough understanding of what soldiers have to deal with in the course of their job. For instance, the gun that Daggubati fires is the standard-issue INSAS rifle, which the Company Officer describes as a constant companion for every soldier – they have to have it on their person at all times. And when he’s teaching Daggubati how to use it, you sense the officer’s complete faith in his equipment. Yet, the indigenously developed INSAS is an aging weapon system that has had problems and is being phased out, replaced by newer weapons like the AK-203, manufactured in partnership with Kalashnikov.
The best moments of the show, then, are when the humanity of the situation comes to the fore. After the end of a grueling day, the soldiers have put together a little performance for everyone to enjoy. Daggubati discovers a couple of soldiers from his native Andhra Pradesh in the distant deserts of Rajasthan. He immediately breaks into a long conversation with them in Telugu, a language which a hundred others looking on don’t seem to understand.
And yet, somehow, everyone present in that scene is there with a common goal in mind — defending those borders. The soldiers liken their colleagues to their ‘big family’, with their ‘small family’ back at home. Mission Frontline, for all its campy, glamorous, go-with-the-trend exterior, ends up being a reminder of the sacrifices that are made to secure the arbitrary border drawn by a white man.
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