Here's what happened when Maniesh Paul spent a day with BSF jawans in Jammu
Maniesh Paul shares a day - and umpteen selfies - with BSF jawans in Jammu as part of a channel's Spread The Cheer campaign
No sooner does Maniesh Paul set foot at the Border Security Force (BSF) base camp in Jammu than the news is broken to him - a sniper has been planted on location, and his aim is the coveted television show host, who has turned up at the cold climes of the city to 'Spread The Cheer' amidst Army men as part of Comedy Central India's annual event. Paul, animated as he is when donning his hat as a performer, lends a suspicious cursory glance before the proceedings serve as a distraction. He has a feat at hand - to give a go at the military drills that are part of the soldiers' daily routine.
Paul takes part in a kabaddi match
A background in crossfit serves as his saving grace as he is tested against the fittest. He follows a BSF jawan as the latter navigates a rope to travel a few meters. Paul replicates the task, albeit failing to get past a few feet. Appreciable, one would say. Yet, much like the host with celebrated comic timing, the Army men too have a joke or two that they can humour with. Another jawan comes in to repeat the feat again, this time, donning artillery worth several kilos on his back. Is Paul up for the challenge? He lets it pass with a smile.
Maniesh Paul takes part in an endurance run with the jawans
If there's any aspect of India that abides by the notion of the guest being God, it is the Indian Army. And whether or not they may have followed Paul's work - given that some of the jawans claimed to have watched their last Bollywood film decades ago - for them, he is a superstar. Amidst smoke bombs employed to set the scene of a war front, Paul is introduced to drills like battle rope, and those involving callisthenics, and puts up a miserable attempt at bringing home a point in a match of kabaddi. He joins the jawans at approximately the 12th round of an endurance run, and bows out at the 17th, while they continue to put their athletic ability on display.
The host tries his hand at the battle rope
However, when the tables turn, and it's time for Paul to turn entertainer, he doesn't disappoint. Even before he spells it out for us during an interview later, he makes evident why he is immensely adored. "Whoever I'm talking to, I try to make him/her the hero," he says. Entertaining a packed audience of men in uniforms, Paul decides to play to their strengths. Having been applauded for his work as host of the recently concluded Indian Idol 10, he recreates the scene here, well abreast of the melodious voices hidden within the men in uniform. In little time, he has found his top three contenders. Sprinkling their attention-grabbing renditions with mimicry that brings Bollywood to Jammu, the jawans back Paul in his claim that there's no lack of talent here. And just when we're about to wrap up, the Army pulls out its most powerful weapon.
The sniper situated at the location
Avinash Poon, a former aspirant of the dance reality show, Dance India Dance, now serving as a BSF jawan, puts his popping skills on display. "I learnt only last night that I have an act to put up. I created the track on an app, and then choreographed the dance accordingly. They say music means life, and for me it's a beat. If anyone plays a beat, I can dance." The Shillong resident turns teacher when he is in his hometown, where he runs classes with the help of his brother. "But I haven't had a chance to go back and teach ever since I've enrolled here."
Overseeing the proceedings, a BSF spokesperson shrugs his shoulders when asked about the impact that cultural activities of this nature have within the unit. "You can see its effect. These jawans are deployed at the border throughout the year. We do some activities to entertain ourselves. But, when someone from the cine world comes and entertains us, it's very soothing for people and they feel jubilant. The jawans look forward to the next day when they know someone is coming. Despite being a disciplined force, you may have seen how they jumbled for photographs [with him]."
In a bid to encourage those with a knack for the arts, the team, the spokesperson says, gives them a platform at gatherings. "It's called bada khaana, where we have a common kitchen for the entire unit. We hold it once in 15 to 30 days and on other important occasions. Rank structures are not maintained here. Everyone comes together, and whoever is willing to perform, does so for himself and others. When talent is spotted, we nurture it and give them a chance to perform. We send them to other locations when they are needed to entertain [others]."
Evidently relieved that he could be one among the lot who've turned up at the venue to gift the jawans "a beautiful day", Paul says, "I can't do what they do at the border, but they will shine if brought to a talent show. I feel happy that I could share a smile with them." As for the sniper, despite a fair amount of cajoling - and an offer to interact with Katrina Kaif - he doesn't relent. Plopped atop a tree a mere few feet away from us, and seated motionless for six hour, he deceives us with his disguise. When put to test at the war front, a sniper, we're told, can maintain his position for four days.
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