In this era of high-decibel television reality shows where contestants are lured by a bagful of money and 15 seconds of fame, "Mission Army" on National Geographic Channel attempts to do something different - give an insider's view of the rigours and regimen of one of the most revered institutions of the country, the Indian Army.
"Definitely this is to promote the Indian Army. This is a show that helps people understand the life of the army in an easier way. The language is easier. It gives a clear picture of what it takes to be an army officer. That's the beauty of this show," National Geographic Channel's vice president (content) Ramon Chibb told IANS on phone from Delhi.
Previously, the channel did similar shows based on the navy and the air force, but getting permission from the army was tougher, says Chibb.
"In 2003, when we went for localisation and thought that our channel needs to be watched, we came up with the documentary 'Mission Everest'. We had that access. Not many channels had that time. Then we did 'Mission Air Force' in 2005 and in 2007 we did it with the Indian Navy.
"This time it was a bit rigorous because it was the Indian Army....the army is a bit more secretive organisation, you know. They don't open up that easily. Seeing our reach and heritage, they allowed us to show the lives of army personnel," he said.
The channel received over 35,000 applications for the show, of which five were selected.
"There were around 35,000 applicants. We first did a grand selection in three cities Mumbai, Bangalore and Delhi. There we went to a selection process, which was very akin to the army selection board...with physical and psychological tests and personal interview.
"Finally, 15 went for proper medical test in Delhi Army Medical and from there, 10 were declared medically fit. Rajputana Rifles put these 10 people through another set of tests and from there we got the final five," explains Chibb.
Over the next 10 episodes, these five youngsters will handle combat guns, manoeuvre battle tanks and undergo rigorous training at key army establishments like Commando School in Belgaum, High Altitude Warfare School in Gulmarg, the Armoured Corps Centre at Ahmednagar and the Artillery Centre in Deolali.
"We have gone through all aspects of the army, right from the time of selection stage to medical to the training in an academy in branches like infantry, artillery, aviation and ordnance.
"At every juncture, we had to go through the physical tasks. So we got to know how tough training they have to go through to be an army officer," said Chibb.
The winner would get first-hand experience of an international mission of the Indian Army.
"It's not like other reality shows. It's putting real people into real situations. In the past mission we have given two fighter pilots to the nation," he added.
One of the five finalists, 23-year-old IBM executive Ela Vohra said: "I came to know about 'Mission Army' online. I thought it would be a great opportunity to explore the Indian Army. It's like a dream come true.
"I have an army background, as my father is with the Indian Army, but didn't have so much of clue what exactly they go through. When I went for this mission, I experienced the actual army life and what they have to go through to be an army officer," Vohra said on phone from Pune.
Another contestant, Kuldeep Rana, said: "I was more inclined towards the adventure part of the army; so this platform of 'Mission Army' brought me a scope to do all the things that a normal person would never do. Post the show, I observed certain changes in me. I was more focussed. It increased my analytical power. Army is not a job; it's a different lifestyle."
"After this experience in 'Mission Army' one thing for sure is that if any odd situation ever arises, I would always love to be a part of the Indian Army in any of their missions," said Rohan Vijay Takalkar, a fitness club owner in Pune.