The Night Manager creator Sandeep Modi reveals how Tom Hiddleston reacted to show, wanted to talk to Aditya Roy Kapur
The Night Manager creator Sandeep Modi talks about the challenges of adapting the beloved series for an Indian audience and how Tom Hiddleston reacted to it.
The second and final part of the Indian adaptation of The Night Manager is set to release on Disney+ Hotstar on June 30. Ahead of the much-awaited release, director Sandeep Modi sat down with Hindustan Times to take a deep dive into the challenges of creating an adaptation, taking some of those inspired casting choices, and finally, the reaction of the OG Night Manager Tom Hiddleston! (Also read: Tom Hiddleston video calls Aditya Roy Kapur after watching The Night Manager, Katrina Kaif goes 'wow')
What is the best thing you have been told about The Night Manager?
I think the best thing I have been told about The Night Manager is that it is as good as the original. I really rate the original very highly and some people told me that... I really pinch myself that some people in the world, some small segment feel that our show is as good as the original. That is a huge thing for me! I I am very happy about that and I am holding on to that message that I have got from a few people and that really means a lot to me.
One of the few people also told me this... it was actually Tom Hiddleston. I had gone to London for the screening and he saw the opening episode and he said I want to watch more. I said I have only carried one more episode! He sat through that too. He said ‘I really want to watch the whole show.’ I didn't know how he would react to the same story being told in India but it gripped him, captivated him and I remember him saying I want to speak to the actor who has played my part. So I called Aditya (Roy Kapur) and he said, 'Man, I think its like when you run a relay race and the first one as just completed a circle and the second one goes for it. Its like you fixed everything that I felt I had missed out on, and some places you played homage by changing what I had done, it means so much to me.' I think that was one of the most beautiful conversations I have had about the show.
I will come to Tom Hiddleston bit in a while. So, the reaction to The Night Manager Part 1 was interesting in a sense that many were left wanting more. Was it always a decision to break the show into two parts?
Actually, it was not a decision right from the onset. After filming once we were on the edit table, there were many days when we would just watch all the episodes back to back. Whenever we would watch them all that is when we realized that it is a show that ideally needs to be seen not like a binge. There is a joy in ruminating the show. Somewhere we were fiddling with the idea that should we do a weekly drop of an episode like a lot of shows do? That is when I floated the idea that is there a possibility of not releasing like a binge, and the platform was quite surprised! They said normally makers come to us insisting on a binge but they understood what I meant but they suggested that instead of doing a weekly drop we will be keen to do a split if you are okay with that and while it wasn't the original intention but yeah, we have adapted to it. And we have tasted success with it so far. So I am sure it was not a bad idea so far!
What was the biggest challenge for you in terms of adapting the show for an Indian audience, and shoot in some specific locations like Sri Lanka when you have a show that has had international success; they know about the characters and the story.
I think one of the first challenges in my head was why am I making this show and if it is not Indian-ised enough and does not feel desi then I might as well turn it on with the Hindi audio. Why are we making it if it does not feel like a show which is connected with our land? So the challenge was to find the same point in history and time and character which give the story a life of its own in Asia. That was the tough part for me, whether it was finding the start in Dhaka, and from there wind it to Sri Lanka where Shelley lives, and here also we were using bits of mythology. We said if it is a Raavan we are creating then he has to live in a Lanka! It is a great bit for whoever catches it. The characters came not just in the writing but also in the casting. Like Anil (Kapoor) Sir came on and he was like. 'Why is it in Hindi cinema we have always been enamored by villains from a particular community?' 'Why can't the villain be from a different town?' So he said let's go for a Rungta, which was a contribution from AK. I remember receiving a voice note from his phone one fine morning and it just said "Rungta! Shelley Rungta!" (laughs) He said it five times and I said 'Okay AK, I think that sounds great!"
I was keen that this is a new society that we live in, its has multicultural facets to it. To give someone a singular identity was not feeling right and that's where we went for Shaan Sengupta who's half-Bengali, half-Punjabi, which is real to the times we are in. So somewhere all the Indianisation also happened from things like these. Shridhar (Raghavan, writer) and me deep-dived into the history, and it was Shridhar who came up with this which had a larger impact yet went unnoticed in our Indian audiences, which was the Myanmar-Rohingya crisis. We took that as a starting point and built around it.
Since you were talking about casting and we are midway through the show, let us talk a little about the cast. One of the main takeaways from the show for me was Saswata Chatterjee as BJ and the manner in which he is so playfully cruel. How did that collaboration come about?
I think firstly kudos to... not just Saswata Da but also to Mukesh Chhabra (casting director) for this inspired choice. It was his idea. I think Dada is such an excellent actor and he is such a sweet guy. I was surprised that Sujoy Da (director Sujoy Ghosh) cast him as Bob Biswas for Kahaani. I was quite intrigued how do we use him and he said, 'Listen I don't know how to play a killer!' I just told him to be sweet! That's what we did, where his words were sharp enough but his smile was so devious that we found the joy in it. For me the best moments were the bond that developed between Saswata da and Anil Sir. Anil Sir said to call him and have lunch together at my house. So for four days all we did was have lunch and read the scenes, and for four days Saswata da would talk to him as Anil Sir. On the fifth day, Saswata da lost it, and said, “Anil Ji what is the plan, just tell me!” And Anil Sir said, “This is the plan. You need to stop thinking of me as some star.” Me and Anil Sir had made this whole plan together because there was a certain fandom we had to remove and then they bonded. Its a very small nuance, where one of them lights a cigarette and they both share it! This is the bond that they developed, and kudos to Saswata da for committing to it in the middle of all his hectic schedule and he really gave it all.
Tell us also a little bit about the casting of Tillotama Shome as Lipika Saikia Rao. She brings such unexpected bite to the show overall. How did that collaboration come from?
I was quite keen to cast Tillotama the day we had locked Anil Sir and Adi for the leads. This show needed a texture which was beyond Bollywood and I keep adding this Sholay reference! Lipika is Thakur and Gabbar is Shelley! So a great actor from parallel cinema, if I can call that- with Tillotama would be an excellent choice. She is strong in her silences; her doggedness is beautiful. So I was quite keen to cast her and I love her work. I have been following her work since Monsoon Wedding, so yeah-- I convinced in this case, to Mukesh Chhabra, to pursue Tillotama for this part.
Kudos to her, she came in and said she doesn't want to watch the original and have any inspiration from the original at all. I will just read the material and decide to take a leap out of it. She is this woman next door and there is a beautiful realness to her which I thought would be a great foil to the glossy world of Shelley Rungta. It is a clash of two worlds, the haves and the have-nots. Who better than Tillotama to lead the side!
Since you already mentioned the meeting with Tom Hiddleston, tell us about his reaction to the show.
After our first part had released, the producers from London decided to do a small private screening for people who had worked in the original series. We didn't know whether Tom was going to make it, he was shooting somewhere else and he promised to be there only for say a bit if he can at all. I landed there and went straight to the screening and the next moment Tom walked in! I was like it is actually happening and is he going to watch it? It hit me for the first time that he is going to see the show! The original creators, producers would watch we had done to their version.
The first episode was done and I was outside and I thought maybe Tom and everyone else would want to sneak out... but he came and said that he loved it and wanted to see more! So he saw one more episode that we had and we spoke at length after it. He loved what we had done to the show and said how it felt like the same story but an Indian story this time. He loved what Aditya did, what Anil Sir did to it. He was very sweet. That was the best reaction. I remember the party had been on for some time and he was there with us till the end. That is something which I will cherish forever.