Documentary channel

Discovery’s ‘Operation Thai Cave Rescue’ takes a deep dive into a story that has gripped the world

The documentary was premiered on Discovery India on Friday.

Intrigue, unfathomable danger, tragedy and ultimate triumph: the story of 12 boys and their football coach who were rescued from deep inside a cave in Thailand after an incredible international rescue operation had all the ingredients of a riveting tale. It is not surprising, therefore, that six films have been announced in quick succession on their 18-day ordeal and return to safety despite the odds.

The first off the block was Discovery Channel’s 40-minute documentary Operation Thai Cave Rescue, which was announced a day after all 13 were safely evacuated on July 10 and was premiered in the United States of America on July 13. The documentary was aired in India this Friday.

With Operation Thai Cave Rescue, Discovery was faced with a tall order: to add to a story that had been closely tracked across the world, with in-depth reports from journalists on the spot and video footage from the rescue team. But it also had the first mover’s advantage, being one of the earliest documentaries to examine the rescue mission in depth and put together the fragments of information that emerged in the days since the boys went missing on June 23.

By the time the show was aired in India, however, several details of the rescue operation had been widely covered – the divers had spoken to various media outlets and the boys had addressed their first press conference, giving a first-hand account of their time in the cave.

To that extent, Operation Thai Cave Rescue does not have too much new to offer to those Indian viewers who had tracked the riveting mission as it unfolded. Still, it adds value to the news coverage by bringing all the information together while celebrating the heroes of the story – the divers and military personnel who put their lives on the line for what many have described as the most dangerous rescue mission in recent history.

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Operation Thai Cave Rescue

The documentary manages to impress upon viewers the dangers that lurk inside Chiang Rai’s Tham Luang cave, where the 13 were stranded, to understand what makes it such a death trap. It takes a tour of its pitch-black crevices, menacing-looking stalactites and narrow passageways, some barely two-feet in height. In these claustrophobic pathways, a sudden spell of heavy rain can lock in water and block off all exits, turning what could have been an exciting trek into a death-defying ordeal. That is what happened to the 12 players of the Wild Boars soccer team, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach, when they ventured to the cave for a picnic after football practice.

Through interviews with divers, members of the rescue teams, psychologists and relatives, the documentary manages to explore the many facets of the 18-day exploration – emotional, physical and technical – that make this a story like no other.

It offers a day-by-day account of the massive effort, starting with the discovery of a row of bikes lined outside the mouth of the cave that alerted authorities to the boys’ location. It also explains what made this rescue mission so uniquely dangerous, and its success so miraculous. Interviews with the rescue team reveal that cave diving, an inherently risky task, proved to be near-impossible with the Tham Laung cave’s complex geography.

Divers explained that for eight days, they couldn’t go much beyond the cave’s entrance. “It’s called looking for the victims but it’s really just feeling around,” said Edd Sorenson, a technical cave diver, explaining how they struggled to locate the boys (they were finally found on July 2). Some of the passages were less than 20 inches wide, so slim that divers would have to take off their oxygen tanks to pass through.

The documentary also highlights the emotional thrust of the story, through moving footage of relatives waiting anxiously outside the cave for days upon days, and messages sent by the boys to their parents through the divers, asking them not to worry, promising to be more responsible when they come home, and requesting their favourite food.

Thanaporn Promthep, the mother of one of the 12 boys, displays an image believed to have been taken in 2017 of her son Duangpetch Promthep, nicknamed "Dom" (pictured second from right) and his football coach Ekkapol Chantawong (right), after hearing the news the group was found, near the Tham Luang cave at the Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in the Mae Sai district on July 2, 2018. Twelve boys and their football coach trapped in a flooded Thai cave for nine days were found safe on late July 2.  Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP
Thanaporn Promthep, the mother of one of the 12 boys, displays an image believed to have been taken in 2017 of her son Duangpetch Promthep, nicknamed "Dom" (pictured second from right) and his football coach Ekkapol Chantawong (right), after hearing the news the group was found, near the Tham Luang cave at the Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in the Mae Sai district on July 2, 2018. Twelve boys and their football coach trapped in a flooded Thai cave for nine days were found safe on late July 2. Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP

It counts down the tense days and the many fraught moments before the international team could finally start bringing the boys out – four at a time, across three days – with each day bringing new dangers and challenges, thanks to the “complex geography, rushing waters and ticking clock”, the narrator spells out.

These tense moments are interspersed with shots of rain lashing the trees outside the cave, an otherwise picturesque sight turning ominous. That danger was amplified with the death of 28-year-old Saman Kunan, on July 6, a former Thai Navy SEAL who suffocated while making his way out the cave after bringing supplies to the boys. As the threat mounts, the documentary explains how the rescue team now had to devise a new plan to take the boys out, one that involved taking into account their emotional as well as physical health. It was a mission where countless things could go wrong. Miraculously, everything went right.

And so, even as it tells a story that is going to be recounted manytimes hence, Operation Thai Cave Rescue manages to keep the focus on something that is worth the multiple iterations – the bravery of the hundreds who risked their life day after day in what an expert described as “the greatest rescue operation in recent history”.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.