A few years ago, “Sacred Games” set off this trend of gritty, urban crime dramas, which everyone aped until it became uninteresting. Heck, even Season 2 of “Sacred Games” fell prey to the tropes it had inspired. That void was seemingly filled by “The Family Man,” which started its own trend of national and international espionage and spy thrillers. By the time Season 2 of that show came out, the freshness of that aspect had worn off. That is why “Farzi,” which apparently belongs to Prime Video’s Spy Universe (not to be confused with YRF’s Spy Universe), failed to convey any kind of excitement or thrill with its state- and country-hopping action and adventure. And it’s no surprise why “The Night Manager,” whose British counterpart was very well received, feels like it has arrived way too late to the party to capitalize on this (dying) sub-genre while proudly flaunting its lack of pizzazz or some semblance of confidence.
“The Night Manager” has been adapted from John Le Carre’s novel by Shridhar Raghavan and Sandeep Modi (who also serves as the creator of the series). The screenplay has been written by Raghavan, and the dialogues have been penned by Akshat Ghildial and Shantanu Srivastava. And the director’s chair is co-occupied by Modi and Priyanka Ghose. The show follows Shaan (Aditya Roy Kapur), who is a former lieutenant of the Indian Naval Force and is presently an employee at a posh hotel called The Orient Pearl in Dhaka. At the height of the Rohingya Muslim migration to Bangladesh, he finds himself in the middle of a conflict between the MD and CEO of a Bangladesh conglomerate, Freddie Rahman, and his underage wife, Safina Rizwan. Although Shaan is disturbed by the age gap, he doesn’t find a legal reason to interfere. But when Safina leaks the link between Rizwan and the Indian business tycoon, Shelly Rungta (Anil Kapoor), Shaan sees no other option but to protect Safina and shed some light on the international arms deals that are going on.
Disclaimer: This review of “The Night Manager” is based on the four episodes that were provided via screeners. The second part of the show, which will arrive in June 2023, isn’t covered in this article.
Despite having a lot of big names in the mix—Anil Kapoor, Aditya Roy Kapur, Sobhita Dhulipala, Tillotama Shome, Ravi Behl, and Saswata Chatterjee—the most popular individual in the cast and crew of “The Night Manager” is Shridhar Raghavan. Why? Well, one of the biggest movies that are running in theaters at the time of writing this article is “Pathaan,” and Raghavan is the man behind its script. But without Abbas Tyrewala’s dialogues (he wrote the dialogues for “Pathaan”) to elevate the writing, you really start to notice the major flaws with Raghavan’s storytelling. Despite spending so much time with Shaan, Shelly, Kaveri (Dhulipala), Safina, Lipika (Shome), or any of the other characters, they leave little-to-no impression on your mind. The way they express their angst, their anxieties, their determination, or spell out the most mundane observations crossing their mind feels robotic and disingenuous. In addition to that, the overall storytelling is devoid of anything synonymous with the words “engaging” or “riveting.” One scene ends, and the other begins; there’s a sense of continuity but no life coursing through its veins.
Modi and Ghose’s direction mirrors the flaccid writing. There’s no difference between how they, along with the cinematographers, frame these apparently dynamic characters being played by popular actors and how a soap opera airing on cable TV frames its characters. It doesn’t matter if the setting is indoors or outdoors; everything looks washed out and flat. Interesting camera angles and editing are rare. But it isn’t impactful or consistent enough to be applauded. I have no clue what’s happening with the score. And that aspect of “The Night Manager” is particularly surprising because Sam C.S. composed such fantastic music for the original and the Bollywood remake of “Vikram Vedha,” “Kaithi,” “Saani Kaayidham,” and “Suzhal: The Vortex.” Yet, here, his work is so monotonous and, at times, downright irritating. The production design, the costume design, the visual effects, and the hair and make-up have a tacky feel to them, which truly shows during the action scenes. The only moment where it feels like the show is trying to shape its own identity is when it drops its frame rate to explore Shaan’s disorientation. But then it swiftly returns to its usual cheap quality, so that you don’t get your hopes up or anything.
It’s pointless to talk about anybody’s performance other than that of Anil Kapoor because he is the only actor who seems to be going above and beyond to really make his mark as Shelly. That’s not to say the rest of the cast didn’t try or that they are not as accomplished or talented as Kapoor. But it just didn’t click for everyone, while it did for Anil Kapoor. Even before you see him on the screen, you get to hear his voice, and you immediately understand that Shelly means business. You get a glimpse at his public persona, where he seems to be helping refugees with food and shelter. And then you get to see the real him, minus all the facades that restrict him from showing his true colors, and it’s both attractive and frightening. The pauses that Anil Kapoor takes before answering Shaan’s pointed questions, the way he notices almost everything that’s going on around him, his body language, and the weight in his voice instill fear. That’s why every time he is on the screen, “The Night Manager” is tolerable. As soon as he exits, the attention level just drops!
In conclusion, if you are a fan of the one and only Anil Kapoor, then please tune into “The Night Manager.” If you want to do a comparative study of the novel, the British version of the show (available on Prime Video), and this Indian version, stream it on Disney+ Hotstar at your own risk. And if you want to see Aditya Roy Kapur and Sobhita Dhulipala occasionally flex their abs, then have it your way. Apart from that, I don’t see any other reason to give this show a try. Going by the teaser at the end of the finale episodes, it seems like the showrunners have reserved all the interesting stuff for Part 2 of the series, which is supposed to be more action-packed and “epic.” In my honest opinion, that is quite the gamble because if the first half is so unimpressive, how can you expect me to return for a second round with these characters? The only correct answer is, “More Anil Kapoor.”