Cast: Anil Kapoor, Aditya Roy Kapur, Sobhita Dhulipala, Tillotama Shome
Director: Sandeep Modi
Rating: Two and a half stars (out of 5)
Trans-creating a well-regarded series in a new setting is fraught with risk.The Night Manager, written jointly by creator and director Sandeep Modi with Shridhar Raghavan, is another proof of that. The Disney+Hotstar show struggles to meet the high expectations set by the original show. The result is an average, if not entirely pointless, thriller.
Comparisons are admittedly odious, but when Aditya Roy Kapur steps into the shoes of Tom Hiddleston, it is hard not to look back at what the English actor had extracted from the titular role. In scope and substance, Kapur's performance isn't a patch on Hiddleston's. But the adaptation allows him to be himself. That works to his advantage.
This iteration of The Night Manager caters clearly to a sensibility markedly different from the one that the BBC One thriller was aimed at. It is at best a serviceable adaptation. Missing are the neat directorial flourishes that the Oscar-winning Susanne Bier brought to bear upon her game.
Shaan Sengupta, a soldier-turned-hotelier is dragged out of a comfortable sinecure by disturbing events triggered by an illegal arms dealer and his ruthless cohorts. The villain masquerades as an agricultural equipment supplier and philanthropist. The hero is out to blow the lid off.
Going with the flow, the lead actor fleshes out an emotionally stricken and morally agitated man who does not exactly wear his heart on his sleeve. A toughened combatant who has had his share of setbacks in the line of duty, he isn't outwardly perturbed by the machinations of his new foe.
With the aid of secret agent Lipika Saikia Rao (Tillotama Shome in the role that Olivia Colman made her own), Shaan sets out to bring down an evil business empire built on war, chaos and death. The two are swayed more by emotion than cold logic, neither of which is a shield against the slimeballs they are up against.
The suave baddie, played with flair by Anil Kapoor, is as bad as they come but he does not bare his fangs all that often. The veteran actor overshadows everyone else in The Night Manager pretty much like Hugh Laurie did in the BBC One show.
Laurie, one half of the well-known comedy double act Fry and Laurie (with Stephen Fry), was a surprise choice for the role of "the worst person in the world". Kapoor, whose screen persona exudes warmth and chatty amiability, also ventures into uncharted territory here and thrives on the challenge that poses.
There is obviously going to be much more of the two adversaries as they square off in the next part of The Night Manager, due to land in our midst in June. The four episodes currently streaming cover about half the ground that the 2016 six-hour series adapted from a John Le Carre book did. Passages here do give the clear impression that this instalment is only setting the stage for an explosive finale.
The Night Manager, produced for the Indian market by Banijay Asia and The Ink Factory, has a sumptuous and varied visual palette. The action spans across multiple locations: Dhaka, Delhi, Shimla, Sri Lanka and other parts of the Indian subcontinent.
Director of photography Benjamin Jasper (known in India for his work on Bang Bang and War) films the action in a way that heightens the atmospherics, which serve the purpose of shoring up the show when the narrative tends to flag.
The camera captures the textural differences of the various settings: the site of a public protest, the lobbies and room of luxury hotels, a magnate's sprawling seaside mansion, crowded public areas teeming with people and the stuffy offices of intelligence agency operatives working at cross purposes.
The Night Manager moves the opening sequences from 2011 Cairo - the year and place of the Arab Spring - to 2017 Dhaka, where protesters take to the streets in response to Myanmar's persecution of its Rohingya minority and the army is called out to quell the rising unrest.
The first episode of this seriesends at the halfway mark of the first chapter of the original series. A tweak in the plot allows Shaan and Shelly's paths to cross pretty early and provide the backdrop for their second encounter two years later in a hotel in Shimla, replacing Zermatt, Switzerland.
In his second brush with the night manager who knows too much, Shelly Rungta is accompanied by an entourage that includes his long-time friend and business associate Brij Pal (Saswata Chatterjee) and life partner Kaveri (Sobhita Dhulipala).
Shaan's growing interest in the sultry Kaveri turns up the heat and sparks begin to fly between him and Shelly's ever-vigilant right-hand man who loses no opportunity to warn the single-minded hero that the lady is out of bounds.
Much earlier, a 14-year-old bride of a Bangladeshi tycoon seeks the help of Shaan, the night manager at Dhaka's Orient Pearl Hotel. The young girl has stumbled upon incriminating information about international entrepreneur Shailendra 'Shelly' Rungta and his nefarious activities. Her life is in danger.
Shaan turns to a friend in the Indian high commission in Bangladesh for assistance to help the girl escape. The matter soon blows up into a full-fledged crisis when Lipika hatches her own secret plan to help the child bride. Things do not go according to plan.
From here on, the mission to bring Shelly to book acquires dimensions that go beyond the professional for both Shaan and Lipika. The former wants revenge, the latter seeks redemption. One goes undercover to keep her boss off her back, the other tries to infiltrate the dangerous arms dealer's inner circle. He homes in on the tycoon's son.
Intrigue, danger and moral anxiety are the key elements in the plot of The Night Manager, which alternates between the gripping and the predictable, and the stolid and the stylish, as the two opposing sides jostle to outrun and outgun each other.
Because this version of the series takes four episodes to portray what was packed into three in the 2016 British production, it ends at a point where a great deal still remains to be unpacked. From the look of it, The Night Manager - The Conclusion promises to be far more action-packed as the battle between Shelly and Shaan reaches a point of no return.
On the acting front, Anil Kapoor steals the show without breaking a sweat. Tillotama Shome and Saswata Chatterjee make full use of the room they have to convey a range of shades. Shobita Dhulipala eases quite effortlessly into the role of a svelte seductress.
Aditya Roy Kapur's is a single-note act. That tends to undermine the show all right but it does not knock it out of its socket. All things considered, The Night Manager manages to be steady but only in an unremarkable sort of way.