When Netflix first launched in India in January 2016, its cupboard was threadbare. The collection was, to be generous, pathetic. Thankfully, nearly two years later, things have improved to such an extent that now its viewers have a problem of plenty.
Many have argued that television is experiencing its golden age. With fare like Big Little Lies, Game of Thrones, Handmaid’s Tale and The Americans, it’ is difficult to debate that point. And while Netflix has had their own mega hits too — House of Cards, Narcos, Stranger Things — its real value lies in the fact that it brings little-known shows from around the world and independent movies to a wider audience.
But for an average Netflix viewer, searching for these little nuggets of gold buried under their huge catalogue consisting of big, dumb action movies about Orcs that no one wants to see and constant Adam Sandler vehicles (no mas) is an arduous task.
It was only by chance that, exploring the Netflix library on my day off, I stumbled upon La Casa De Papel (The House of Paper). Though the premise looked familiar, I was intrigued: Eight thieves take hostages and lock themselves in the Royal Mint of Spain as a criminal mastermind manipulates the police to carry out his plan.
I checked out the trailer on YouTube and my intrigue only grew further. It was a Spanish show (si!) which seemed like a mixture of Prison Break and Lost, two shows I simply adored (si!) And best of all, I discovered that at just 13 episodes, it was a limited series (si!).
While Netflix has been hit-and-miss with their international imports lately — the wonderful German mystery horror series Dark and Japanese sci-fi series Erased excepted — La Casa De Papel is a thrill-a-minute crowdpleaser with enough twists and turns to make a roller-coaster operator envious.
The story, told through the eyes of a young thief who calls herself Tokyo, who is on the run and mourning the death of her boyfriend, who was her partner in crime. Tokyo is angry. Impetuous. She has nowhere to turn. Her own mother wants to hand her over to the police. Unexpectedly, she is given a lifeline.
A mysterious man known only as The Professor approaches her, promising redemption and, one big heist enough to set her up for life. She is introduced to seven other like-minded individuals, each with their own eccentricities and to borrow a phrase from Liam Neeson, a very particular set of skills (much in the vein of every heist movie or TV show you’ve ever seen).
Taking a page from the fabulous Quentin Tarantino movie Reservoir Dogs, the thieves agree that real names and personal information should be off-limits. Each member chooses the name of a different city: Moscow, Tokyo, Berlin, Rio and so on. The plan is perfect. The Professor insists that no blood will be spilled and that they will steal money that belongs to no one. And yet, as they inevitably do, things go wrong. Of course they do.
Tokyo, being Tokyo, flouts The Professor’s rules, and begins sleeping with Rio, the electronics expert. Their romance causes more than just headaches for the gang. To say any more would be venturing into spoiler territory, so we ought to just leave it there.
While La Casa De Papel explores themes that are well-worn, it feels new and exciting. The characters are extremely well-drawn, complex and above all, believable: From a father-son duo trying to escape a drug lord’s wrath, a young woman fighting for a chance to be reunited with her family or a powerful woman officer trying to solve the crime as the world judges her and her personal life falls apart, every beat rings true.
The acting is pitch-perfect, helped undoubtedly by the fact that none of these actors have made it to the big time. I found myself with a big, goofy grin at the end of each episode, marveling at the ingenuity of the script and eager to get to the next chapter in the story. La Casa De Papel is one of those rare shows that does not demand just your time, but your attention. Savour it.