This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Poornima Mandpe. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Why I Love It: Narcos Open A Window Into The Mind Of Pablo Escobar

More from Poornima Mandpe

“I am Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria. My eyes are everywhere” with this introduction to the powerful Colombian kingpin, the one who ruled the world’s most complex and far-reaching drug trade, the Netflix series Narcos begins. It is in this scene itself that Pablo Escobar establishes his philosophy, one that underlines his cocaine trafficking and the fate of Columbia in the years to come. ‘Plato o Plomos’ (silver or lead), he offers to a group of police who stop him trading illegally, meaning that he would either buy his way in and if that does not work, he would simply proceed to eliminate his opponent. This fictionalized biopic retains many real names, locations and incidents and traces Pablo’s story from his rise as a local smuggler to one of the deadliest and most wanted criminals – responsible for the death of thousands of police, politicians and innocent citizens of Columbia. It was in his reign that Columbia earned the infamous sobriquet of the murder capital of the world.

If you would ever look up to Google for the staggering amount of money he was able to make illegally trading cocaine in the United States, you would perhaps be more forgiving of the likes of Nirav Modi or Vijay Mallya closer home. The series covers Pablo’s entire journey from opening the cocaine labs in the jungles to building the Medellin cartel (his drug empire) and offers interesting information on the politics of Columbia and the United States in the backdrop of rising narco-terrorism.

However, Narcos is not just about your knowledge building. What it brings to its audience is a deep insight into the mind of a dreaded criminal. In the cycle of violence that had gripped Columbia in Pablo Escobar’s reign, we are allowed to analyze and interpret Pablo Escobar’s psychology in each of the actions that he takes from the very beginning towards the end. Let us take one example.

In the first season, a humiliated Pablo unleashes a bloodbath in the country, beginning with the assassination of the President, all because he denied entry in the Parliament. For a person whose drug business was making him one of the richest men in the world, turning his operations on the government and the oligarchs of the country was a move that could have gone against his interests.

In fact, it was a move that changed his position in the eyes of law from merely an illegal drug trader to a political terrorist. In doing so, he also brought upon himself the wrath of his partners. But Pablo did it anyway. For him, it was a point he wanted to prove against the establishment.

Pablo’s Complex Mind, Sky High Aspirations And Hurt Ego

What this incident makes us understand is that underlying his violent reaction was his hurt ego, and if you would go deeper still, a complex feeling of deprivation and unfairness of not been included and recognized in the ‘men of always’, the socially powerful circles of Columbia that he always desired to be a part of, and which all the money in the world that he had could not give him.

Throughout the series, we are privy to his sky-high aspirations, his misconstrued understanding of representing the marginalized, his greed and ruthlessness as he tastes blood, and simultaneously, his random acts of kindness towards some people. His fears, insecurities, mistrust and loneliness that is so delicately conveyed somehow humanizes his character.

And when I use this term ‘humanizes’, it doesn’t mean I am attributing human virtues of kindness to the man. It simply means that in his straightforward violence and greed for power, the complexities of his mind which dictated his actions are also woven.  Pablo indeed embodies a complex contradiction in which the love for his own family is boundless, but he has absolutely no qualms in destroying so many other happy families.

In one of the early scenes, he saves a mother and child from getting hacked to death by his followers. Later, he asks his men to hunt down another woman and her child, a witness of one of the heinous crimes he had committed. Little wonder then, that in his last days before his death, he lived a lonely man, despised and feared by the people he claimed to love, hunted by the system that he had wanted to wreck. We almost begin to feel sorry for him, and that is where the problem starts.

The Fate Of Choices And What Follows

On one hand, it is important that Narcos is doing what a few would attempt, and fewer would be capable of, trying to understand the psychology of a man who was a murderer and a criminal. On the other hand, the fear remains that a portrayal of the sentiments, thoughts and personal history of someone like Pablo Escobar may lead to sympathy for his actions, and justification for his crimes.

Not totally, of course. But it gets you thinking. He would not have been the dreaded terrorist if he had a more stable childhood. His actions helped many poor people, and he was their saviour. He was a good father to his children. The list would go on.  So would it be better to obscure the personal details of all the people like Escobar, who have committed terrible crimes against humanity?

Will it do to simply vilify them, hate them, and know them only through the crimes they committed? If we restrict ourselves at that, we would never know what motivations drive a person to violence. We need to understand how the people who have experienced poverty, deprivation, and injustice are forced to fall into crime. We need to know what propaganda was used to brainwash a group of people to commit atrocities on their fellow human beings. 

Yes, we need to know what Hitler thought when he was ordering the murder of the so many of his own citizens, and how a man like Pablo could amass such a mass following.  So basically, what shows like Narcos are doing, is the right thing. As an audience, however, it is we who need to understand that in spite of the circumstances, every person makes a choice to do a particular action, and that person alone stands responsible for the choice he or she made. A heartbreaking account of someone’s unjust past life does not necessarily justify her injustices on others in the present.

Similarly, a vision for the greater good, however convincing it may be, does not make up for the destruction a person discharges in the present. I don’t know how my mind went to the old Bollywood classic Deewar while watching Narcos, but no other example would serve better to make my point. Angry young man Vijay (Amitabh Bacchan)  has many reasons to give to his subdued young brother on why he joined the underworld, highlighting especially the abuse that their mother had to deal with while bringing up her sons on her own.

Ravi (Shahi Kapoor) however remains unimpressed, even though the audience is. He knows that taking to a crime that would also affect innocents and justifying it as a ‘give-back’ to the society where a few have been unfair to you does not mean justice. It is nothing but your personal vendetta. The movie’s end (idealistic as it is) indeed proves that he was the wiser one.

Neither brilliantly devised theories nor tragic backstories ever justify violence and repression, and all the memoirs and biographies on the criminals of history should not make you do so.  Thank you Narcos for bringing me clarity on this!

You must be to comment.

More from Poornima Mandpe

Similar Posts

By Imran Khan

By Hemraj P

By Vaishnavi Navalkar

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below