Narcos fans have been mesmerised by the Pablo Escobar story. I have had at least half dozen Facebook friends who changed their profile pictures to that of Wagner Moura’s Pablo Escobar. But here’s the deal, if you liked Narcos, you must must watch Pablo Escobar El Patron Del Mal. Here are ten plus reasons why
1. What Narcos tells you in roughly 15 hours of running time, this 2012 Colombian TV series by Caracol TV takes over 50 hours detailing every incident. It’s 74 episodes. Both are rated equally high on IMDB. One will agree to Pablo Escobar, the man who dug millions of dollars in fields, needed that much screen time.
2. Narcos has the tendency to glorify the American DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency dudes) and over glorify Pablo Escobar while compromising on many details. Narcos has been primarily made from the American and (to some extent Pablo Escobar’s) point of view. El Patron Del Mal has been made from Colombia’s point of view. Hence whereas Narcos spends a lot of time explaining the logistics how drugs flowed from jungles of South America to the beaches of Miami, El Patron spends humongous time on how much the Colombian authorities struggled with their roles, their families and their constraints in dealing with the narco monsters. The DEA is a mere footnote in the latter.
3. Case in point being Pablo Escobar’s first entry into Parliament till the Minister of Justice, Rodrigo Lara Bonilla’s, assassination is covered within one episode in Narcos. El Patron Del Mal takes seven brilliant episodes to cover the same. The detailing and keeping it closest to reality needs strong appreciation. Similarly, Senator Luis Carlos Galan’s assassination is covered over seven episodes in El Patron Del Mal and a mere footnote in Narcos. During the Carlos Galan rally, you are at edge of your seat while his family watches the rally on TV, Pablo Escobar is running high fever on nervousness, Galan’s overconfident security team is unsure of how the local authorities have failed on promises and the viewer is wondering how much the killing will push back Colombia.
4. Similarly, in Rodrigo Lara’s situation, El Patron Del Mal, gets into, his vision, his upright honesty, him being a staunch family man who played with kids every night, how the press worked day and night helping him uncover Escobar’s past, how Pablo Escobar took the first step of character assassination by accusing him of taking bribes through a false cheque, how Medellin cartel takes days in decisioning if they should kill a senior minister, how they audition young bike stuntmen to execute, how the government becomes aware of assassination threats and starts taking precautions, the multiple times the killers attempt to kill the minister but get nervous, the edge of the seat the viewer stays knowing the inevitable (this is where watching Narcos before is important) and the actor Ernesto Benjumea’s excellent performance which makes you feel for him throughout. Sort of reminds me Bollywood thriller Madras Cafe climax where you know the PM will be assassinated but you don’t want him to die.
5. Actress Diana Hoyos as Lara’s wife steals the show in post-assassination episodes. Her life turned upside down, worst fears coming true and consolation from all and sundry can just not console her. Her performance during the state respecting funeral, afterwards when the President makes getaway arrangements for her and family to Spain, the pain of leaving Colombia and that nothing will ‘bring him back’, moves the viewer to tears. The other tearjerker segment is after the Commander of Antioquia Police is murdered, his son gets the news in the Police academy. After spending weeks convincing his dad to get out of police services, urging the police chief on changing his role, every day discussing the impending danger and assassination attempts when the son sees the Colombian flag half-mast, he falls over the grass madly crying out ‘Papa, papa’.
6. Simply put, El Patron Del Mal makes a hero of the right characters. It also showcases in a small third world country city, it wasn’t easy getting away killing a politician – that’s true, right? Can you expect high profile gangsters to get away killing a senior politician in 80s Mumbai? The state is in shock, red alert, Pablo and Gonzalo (Cousin) need an overnight small unsafe boat to Panama and Paty (wife) fakes a pregnancy problem to get down from a flight hoodwinking the DEA agents. And all that I said above, is barely into Episode 15!
7. El Patron Del Mal also shows Mariachi (Gacha of Narcos) as one equally powerful with men and ammunition at par with Pablo. Through its apt pace, it keeps the viewer concentration limited to a small set of characters and get into the detail of each. That helps you not lose track of what’s happening. The focus is never on DEAs or random gangsters walking in and out or agents helping fly or distribute the cocaine to the USA or the guerrillas. Narcos that way is sometimes confusing with excess characters thrown at your face on the drop of a hat.
8. Even Chilli’s (Poison of Narcos) character is shown in depth – how one day he mistakenly tells Paty of Pablo’s visit to whores, his girlfriend, how he in hiding with his pals post the assassination, how the police spot him but fail to identify him as Pablo’s right hand etc are all thrilling. There is Paty’s brother Fabio who steals the show in initial episodes. Fabio, in fact, is shown a much-balanced relative of Pablo who while efficient in running the operations, also knew when to draw the line. The actor is admirable despite limited scope and I wish the actor had got a lot more screen time. Or Pablo’s childhood, his initial smuggling jobs and then when he and Gonzalo rob a bank to break into big-time criminality.
9. The above also means it’s important the viewer has seen Narcos and got the story in his/her mind embedded. That helps them manoeuvre through El Patron Del Mal better, get into depths and see things from another perspective. And in depth. El Patron Del Mal will make you cringe more, keep you on the edge of your seat, shed tears more and stay glued. This despite your over-reliance on subtitles and Colombian locals actors (not your prettier looking American cast) who actually perform a lot better. So General Carillio is an aged man and not as handsome here but boy, all of them act brilliantly.
10. Which brings me to Narcos 3. Pablo Escobar’s story was extremely complicated and fascinating worth 20 Narcos episodes and 74 El Patron Del Mal episodes. Narcos 2 while being brilliant, is not as good as Narcos 1. That’s because they got the timeline wrong. The more fascinating decade of Pablo’s rise was covered in ten episodes while his one year downfall in next ten. What Narcos 3 will show with the sheen of Pablo gone, is anybody’s guess, and I doubt, less exciting to anticipate. Till Narcos 3 comes, do give your time to El Patron Del Mal. It’s far far better.
Updated 14 Nov 2016
11. That Pablo Escobar had a love pregnancy (from a random girl) and how he executed the abortion to get rid of a headache or that his relationship with star TV presenter (Regina) was an extremely rickety affair was missed in Narcos. Narcos glamourized it to an affair of mutual benefits but the truth was Vallejo was never a fan of killings and wanted Pablo to surrender for sake of himself and their love. At one stage their relationship was in such poor shape that Pablo wouldn’t mind raping her.
Updated 20 Aug 2017
12. By now I have watched both the TV series multiple times and eagerly awaiting Narcos 3. One thing I realise in these multiple viewings is that El Patron Del Mal showed each of the cartel members in much worse light than Narcos. Pablo is often shown demanding for virgins to be arranged to his ranch (including killing one) and once a national level young player too. His thirst for bombing and killing everyone and anyone reached such levels that during a forest run, he even shot dead an aged lady who had helped Pablo recover, amidst the jungle, from a serious bout of malaria and fever.
13. It is also quite clear that the American DEA’s role was largely reduced to help via superior surveillance equipment and tracking down odd Sicarios. Even in Narcos, the excess focus is on the DEA’s lifestyle, Murphy adopting a child, how they blew money in bribing Colombian officials etc. However, fact remains that Americans would have done a better job stopping the tonnes of cocaine landing on their shores, than, true to their habit, reaching Colombia and meddling in their political affairs. Had America choked the transportation and sales of drugs in their country, the Narcos wouldn’t have been even a fraction as big as they eventually got. But America has always had this dual faced approach to matters. They help destroy nations, mint in all the money and make movies of how much they were robbed despite bad intentions!! Well, Escobar’s drug market revenue was majorly from America and in exchange two DEA jokers moving around in Columbia is a joke. At that time two tonnes of cocaine were consumed by Americans daily. USA authorities let that market bloom forever, rather than shut it down!
Update 26 Aug 2017
14. While El Patron Del Mal has given more depth to each of the characters, there is one character Narcos beat them on. President Cesar Gaviria’s constant dilemma, the paradox situations in front of him and his decision-making skills always on knife edge has been well portrayed in the American version. That actor Raul Mendez Martinez did a superlative job adds to the final outcome. Beyond episode seven, Narcos 1, as a viewer, you breathe and live with Gaviria’s emotion and pensive face. So while Narcos needless keeps the extra focus on Pablo’s emotions, his family bondings, his jail luxuries and his staring at albums (most of it to glorify him further and mock at Colombian government), the Cesar Gaviria act still holds forte. As the president says to Eduardo Sandoval, another good character sketch, “If I have to choose between prostitutes at La Cathedral and bombings all over Columbia, I will be eternally grateful to these women forever”.