Friday, 15 April 2016

Not judging a book by its cover – Ronin and Narcos

Two of my favourites Ronin the movie and the TV series NARCO Swere ones I had a chance to see early but missed, because the posters and communication didn’t appeal to me.

But finally when I did see them, each one was a superior pearl that was not to be missed.

I know, this post seems to be more about me than these, but might give an insight to what influences. I am in the business of understanding why folks do what they do especially in terms of consuming services and products.  And I am passionate about advertising.

Yet despite I am bloody selective and got even more selective – and this is not selective in a good way of being refined, liking the finer things in life etc. My threshold for experimentation and tolerance of unpleasant things is nearly zero. I have had a fairly sheltered life though I have covered a good part of the globe, and continue to be vegetarian.

As a result I am also resistant to suggestions from folks, but recently seem to have opened to opinion leaders.

In Dubai when Ronin had first come in, one of my colleagues who was an avid cinema goer had asked me to join him for a movie that had just come out. We reached the cinema and surprisingly the movie had been sold out (or perhaps we were late – but I cant remember the name of the movie we were planning to see. 

What I remember however is that Ronin was another movie that was being shown in the same multiplex and the next showtime was just about to start. However we had one look at the poster and it didn’t look very appealing.  And even though I did know Robert De Niro somehow it looked dark, foreboding and didn’t hold any appeal.  The name too didn’t strike much to us.  We instead decided to have dinner instead.

It was only later that one of the other colleagues got a gang of folks together when he wanted to see Ronin for a second time, that I joined in.  And I was simply blown by the movie.

I have seen Ronin several times since, and on TV mostly but it has some amazing storyline that continues to hold and engage our attention easily.  

I am not a great fan of heist movies (one big disappointment for me was Tarantino’s movie that I saw really late after his other movies, and I his heist movie didn’t do it for me).  Movies like Ocean’s 11+ series are laughably bad and make it all look so easy and smooth, you just can’t take them seriously.

But Ronin was gritty and narrated beautifully and also helped that it had one of the finest ensemble of talents.  And shows France and Paris in a subtle fashion.  The movie rings true mainly because of the amazing insights right from trusting folks to the kind of clever tricks pulled off in the movie they really hit you in the gut, like how Robert De Niro manages to expose and throw out one of the pretenders in the team who is likely to disrupt the plans, or understanding the reflexes of the team members as well as the key targets.    It’s a movie not to be missed.

More recently the pattern continued.  I had seen a strong recommendation for NARCOS in one of the magazines (either Esquire or FHM) as one of the best TV series not to be missed.  However the poster (one showing Pablo Escobar) was so unappealing as was the gruesome subject matter, I postponed this instead going for my regular pulp fiction and they satiated me well.

Till I read in my twitter TL a tweet from @poonamsaxena that she was now completing Narcos to make sure she was ready for Game of Thrones.  Poonam Saxena is the editors for the leisure sections in Hindustan Times, and had the un-enviable rather painful task of reviewing what comes on TV, a column she’s stopped and must be mighty happy n relieved post that.  Her columns on the TV series were fun and gave some great leads as well as juice on the different goings on Television, however limited the material to go by was.  (and sititng in delhi, She clearly was not influenced in anyway by the General Entertainment channels PR efforts – most of them based in Mumbai).

So when she said this, and given that I have a terribly lean period now (more about this later, but hopefully I wont have to talk about it) – I decided to try it.  I remember that poster and wondering if I should.  So I decide to see the first episode, as one of the additional points going for this is that its from NETFLIX  which has produced some great material, though I have only seen House of Cards yet.

But the first episode was so mesmerizing, I am on my way completing the series soon (I AM on a lean period like I said).  But a good way to describe this is that House of cards seems like a flaky story while Narcos is possibly the Gold standard that is going to be really hard to beat – I’d say its on par with game of thrones, possibly better.

Narcos is based on the real life story of how dreaded drugleader from Colombia became one of the 10 most richest men in the world, and how he was caught, and this is narrated from the view of the DEA agent who moved into Colombia to help track the Cocaine trade

Very few movies manage to suck you right in (City of Gold was one such, coming soon) – but Narcos' narration is soooo powerful – within the first few minutes you are glued to your couch, and your eyes glued to the screen and theres’ no going away.  I was busy arranging to see the second episode minutes after the first was over.    And Narcos has so many things that could have gone awry – the depressing subject, the crime-heavy, violent context, and all of this nearly two decades old and in such a remote part (Americans barely know Mexico, and little of what is south of that), and yes most of the spoken dialgoues are  in Spanish.

But Narcos is so superlative in its storytelling you just cant help getting mesmerized by how the narrator starts gently introducing various elements and piecing together the background, the interconnectedness of various events and players and insights into how decisions were made.  So much so that you forgive any lapses or small poetic licences that were made in the TV series.   Also what is amazingly missing is the kind of problems one sees in TV series where there are convenient changes or set ups or some plots, sub-plots dropped and the series changes its direction frustratingly. (can be seen in The good wife to the House of Cards).  But perhaps also because Narcos is a real life story this doesn’t happen.

What is clear is how NETFLIX has not spared any expense in developing the Colombia and the US of the last two decades of the 20th century as well as the lifestyle times of the cities they are covering.  The director is particularly indulgent and there is a lot of love in presenting Colombia beautifully, you almost regret the loss and difficult times it goes through.

What is also clear is that the story rules and not any of the characters or actors, and the focus of the viewer is purely on that, so even when there are terrible shootouts and murders and dead bodies every few minutes you see the grime but are absorbed in the story and can forgive it.  RamGopal Verma would not just be proud but would have an orgasm seeing this.

All the same the learning for me now is to not miss out on good ones like these two just because I didn’t like the poster, and go for these in the first screening itself.