A show made on the armed forces, in collaboration with and support from the armed forces, can just not help but be adulatory about its subject. If only it were not so devoid of humour and life.
But pushing your body and spirit for four years to become killing machines for the nation is, perhaps, grim business. The affair does not have to be so self-serious, but Inside INA makes it look like it is.
The 40-minute long documentary Inside INA gives us a 360-degree tour of the Indian Naval Academy in Ezhimala in Kerala that trains India’s future Navy officers and is the largest naval academy in Asia. The show was telecast on the National Geographic Channel on Independence Day, and will be telecast again on August 16 at 10pm.
This is the channel’s fifth production on the armed forces. Earlier, it has produced and broadcast shows on the Indian Army, the Navy, the Air Force and the Border Security Forces.
The show’s script reads like a filmed version of a possible prospectus for the Indian Naval Academy. We get to know the salient features, as they say, of the academy in bullet point-like sequence after sequence.
Students from different backgrounds come fresh from school to the academy. They are given a crew cut as soon as possible. For the next four years, they get all the technical and physical training they need to become perfect sea hawks. The men (and a few women) are taught to behave like a group, be consistently loyal to each other, their larger squadron, and, eventually, the motherland.
Everything is spic-and-span, state-of-the-art, and awesomely awesome at the Indian Naval Academy. Viewers looking for an engaging documentary in the truest sense and not just a filmed brochure of the INA will be disappointed.
For instance, we don’t get an insider’s view of the camaraderie between the cadets. Once in a while, an officer, an INA instructor or a cadet speaks to the camera and delivers functional information about their day-to-day routine life. But we don’t get to know what any of the many nameless future Navy officers think in their private moments, what they do for recreation, whether they have fights or face bullying or ever think of quitting or do they miss home.
In one scene, a cadet is getting the last haircut that he is ever going to get at the INA, and he shows just a hint of emotion for the academy (“After spending four years at some place, you develop feelings for that place”). That thread is never explored throughout the 40-minute running time. If that scene, which was the heart of the show, was delved into with sincerity, Inside INA could have had life to it.
The Ezhimala campus, where the show is set, was established in 2009. Since then, like in any other college campus, there must have been legends left behind by an errant few. But we don’t get to see that kind of informal history about the place.
Boys are tutored to follow orders for that it what makes them battle-ready men at such training academies. There is no space for irregularities or rough edges to be discussed outside the campus of the naval academy. Thus the show ends up being bland. Inside INA takes us inside INA in the literal sense. You might as well google-image you way through the training.