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In ‘The Day I Met El Chapo’, two celebrities do the unthinkable by meeting a most wanted drug lord

The fascinating story of Kate del Castillo and Sean Penn’s 2015 rendezvous with Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzman is now on Netflix.

The most notorious drug lord of the 21st century. A television actress who enjoys widespread popularity and acclaim in her homeland. And a globe-trotting Hollywood movie star who wants to play journalist.

Two years ago, these three individuals got together for a private meeting in a jungle in Mexico. While law enforcement officials of two countries had no idea of the location of drug smuggler Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, who was on the run after having escaped from prison for the second time in his life, the two most unlikely people in the world got to meet him in person. What happened next is the stuff of Netflix originals.

The three-episode documentary series The Day I Met El Chapo: The Kate del Castillo Story looks at how Castillo’s life as a Mexican telenovela star changed overnight when she got the opportunity to have a tête-à-tête with Guzman. Months after Castillo met Guzman along with Sean Penn, the kingpin was finally arrested. And suddenly, Castillo and Penn’s secret meeting with Guzman was not a secret anymore.

The backlash was severe. While Penn got away with minor criticism, the Mexican news media insinuated, among other things, that Castillo had an affair with Guzman and even became pregnant with his child. The Enrique Peña Nieto government launched an investigation into money laundering deals that Castillo allegedly engaged in with Guzman. The government also suspected that Guzman was funding his own biopic that Castillo had agreed to back in addition to financing her equila business. For a year and a half, Castillo was ostracised in her country. In The Day I Met El Chapo, she tells her side of the story.

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The Day I Met El Chapo: The Kate del Castillo Story

Penn got to tell his version in January last year through his article in Rolling Stone magazine. Castillo refutes many of Penn’s anecdotes. For example, Penn writes that Guzman sent flowers to Castillo, which she denies. Penn writes that they were met by military officials on the way to meet Guzman, Castillo says that is untrue.

The broad-stroke details regarding how it all began are the same: Castillo tweeted in 2012 that she would rather trust Guzman than the Mexican government. This caught Guzman’s attention. A fan of Castillo’s work, particularly the series La Reina del Sur where the actress plays a drug baroness, Guzman got in touch with Castillo and soon the two reached an agreement to make a film on his life.

Castillo needed high-profile support to get the El Chapo project off the ground. Enter Penn. He told Castillo that he was interested in making a film on Guzman, when in reality, he had been commissioned by Rolling Stone to interview Guzman after the editors got to know that he was in touch with a source, Castillo.

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Sean Penn on meeting Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán | CBS

The Day I Met El Chapo runs over a little less than three hours. The first episode, Destined to Meet, establishes the rise of Castillo as a Mexican celebrity and Guzman as a feared criminal. A sense of what these personalities mean to contemporary Mexican society is put across. The second episode, Face to Face, is the most action-packed. It chronicles the events leading up to the meeting between Penn, Castillo and Guzman, and finally the meeting itself. The final hour-long episode, The Fallout, shows how everything fell apart for Castillo and Guzman while Penn escaped unscathed having gotten his article out.

Castillo, the face of the series (and also its executive producer) comes off as incredibly transparent in the interviews. She paces around the set, huffs and puffs, cries and then gets herself together and tells her story without mincing words. Joining her in front of the camera are a bunch of journalists following the case and lawyers hired by Castillo and Guzman. The makers had contacted Penn to contribute to the film, but he never responded. Once the series was announced, the actor got his legal team to halt its release, claiming that “blood will be on their [filmmakers’] hands if this film causes bodily harm.”

By and large, nothing in The Day I Met El Chapo reveals information about Penn that could get the cartel angry. At most, Penn comes off as a liar who hid his agenda of interviewing Guzman from Castillo till the last moment and thus endangered both their lives for real at an actual villain’s lair.

Sean Penn, Joaquín Guzman and Kate del Castillo. Image credit: Kate del Castillo.
Sean Penn, Joaquín Guzman and Kate del Castillo. Image credit: Kate del Castillo.
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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.