A still from The Night Manager 2. (courtesy: YouTube)
It isn't the kind of explosive finale that one had thought it would be but the second part of The Night Manager does have its share of fireworks, including one staged by way of a weapons and missiles demo in an off-the-radar desert military base in a fictional West Asian country. But that isn't from where the intensity and heat of these three episodes primarily stem.
The concluding part of the Disney+Hotstar thriller series created for India by Sandeep Modi, written by Shridhar Raghavan and directed by Modi and Priyanka Ghose draws its strength from the war of attrition between illegal arms dealer Shailendra 'Shelly' Rungta (Anil Kapoor) and soldier-turned-hotelier-turned-spy Shantanu 'Shaan' Sengupta (Aditya Roy Kapur).
Shaan had begun his moves and wormed his way into Shelly's palatial seaside home in the first part itself. As his makes its way towards the climax, the thriller does nor take recourse to too many gunshots or hand-to-hand duels. It instead employs gripping passages that serve to sufficiently heighten tension and anticipation.
Does the ending justify the unusual four-month interregnum between the two parts and deliver a confrontation strong enough to be worth the wait? Yes, it does, with its slow-burn restraint standing out.
The clandestine arms deal that Shelly is on the verge of swinging even as Shaan infiltrates his inner circle and chips away at its entrails thanks to his proximity to the amoral businessman's mistress Kaveri (Sobhita Dhulipala), whose position in this dangerous world turns more and more tenuous.
New friends and old foes emerge in Shelly's unholy universe as the three roughly one-hour episodes hurtle towards a final showdown between the Indian spies and their irrepressible bete noire who continues to hold his cards close to his chest and begins to reveal his venomous side as the threats to his business intensify.
Although it is pretty easy to guess how it might all end for the arms peddler, the final episodes create room for a surprise or two, a passable degree of suspense and one memorable in-person encounter between Shelly and Indian intelligence agency operative and Shaan's handler Lipika Saikia Rao (Tillotama Shome).
In the last episode, the action returns where it all began - at the Orient Pearl, Dhaka - and brings the four key players, including the indefatigable and pregnant Lipika, back into the fray.
The indignation, the emotional distress and the moral abhorrence that Shaan was gripped by at the outset because of the killing of a child bride in his charge resurface and merge with the man's bottled-up rage against Shelly.
In the thick of the climactic action is a new entrant, a smarmy arms buyer (played with aplomb by Prashant Narayanan) who is no less repugnant than Shelly. He holds out the promise of extending the story beyond the opening season of The Night Manager. The nameless man's parting words to Shelly are: we'll see each other again.
The question is: is the audience enthused at the possibility? Considering that our curiosity has been piqued by the end of The Night Manager Part 2 with Lipika, in a crucial scene, suppressing an all-knowing smirk in response to a flash of alarm on Shaan's face, the answer to that question would probably be in the affirmative.
The Night Manager is obviously Anil Kapoor and Aditya Roy Kapur's show, but can one ever keep Tillotama Shome out of the picture? Fleshing out an unassuming but fiercely committed spy with nuance and subtlety, she is as much as part of the action now as she was in the first four episodes of The Night Manager.She adds enriching angularities and layers to the undercover mission aimed at demolishing Shelly's evil empire.
Lipika isn't the kind of secret agent we usually see in our films or web shows. It is in the fitness of things that Shome, a screen performer like no other we know in Mumbai, plays the character. In the line of duty, and even outside it, Lipika struggles to stave off multiple challenges, not the least of which is posed by a boss who revels in queering the pitch for her even as she goes about her job in the field in the company of Danish Khan (Joy Sengupta) and Sarang (Anand Potdukhe).
Anil Kapoor continues to be the actor around whom the story revolves. As the dapper baddie who seeks profit and power in the business of war and destruction, he blends dashes of flair with consistently understated style. Embodying viciousness in its most egregious forms, he opts for an approach that only suggests, rather than outwardly expresses, the character's carefully disguised malice.
Aditya Roy Kapur slips into the guise of the inscrutable Shantanu 'Shaan' Sengupta, a former Navy man trained to be stoic and unflappable no matter what the provocation is, and raises his game a few notches.
Sobhita Dhulipala does not get the play she received in the first four episodes. Her part is reduced to a strictly reactive one as a vulnerable woman responding to the hope of being rescued from Shelly's clutches. She does the best she can within the limited scope.
Saswata Chatterjee as the hard-drinking, garrulous Brijpal, Shelly's old friend and trusted lieutenant, gets the short shrift.
If the first part was a case of style overpowering substance by a distance, Part 2 of The Night Manager moves appreciably closer to achieving some consonance between the two elements. The visual flamboyance is intact, the pacing is even and the tying up of the loose ends is infinitely neater, making this a convincing conclusion marked by steady performances and sustained technical sheen.
Anil Kapoor, Aditya Roy Kapoor, Sobhita Dhulipala, Tillotama Shome, Ravi Behl and Saswata Chatterjee
Priyanka Ghose and Sandeep Modi