The Night Manager Part 2 review: Anil Kapoor and Tillotama Shome remain the best bits of this serviceable thriller
Part 2 of the Night Manager picks up pace when compared to the first one that took too long to establish the basic plot. But it remains a serviceable thriller.
We didn't have to wait for Part 2 of The Night Manager for this long. And I don't mean it in a good way. The Indian adaptation of the 2016 British thriller series of the same name dropped its first four episodes in March and the viewer had to wait for more three than months to finish what they started.
The problem with this two-part distribution and the long wait between them was two-fold. Firstly, the original version, starring Tom Hiddleston, Hugh Laurie, Olivia Colman and Elizabeth Dickie, is already available in full for viewing in India. Secondly, the Indian adaptation had binge-watch written all over it. Not because it's nail-bitingly edgy and pacey, but one would've preferred to snort it and get it out of the way in one go.
Better than Part 1
The first part, though decidedly sprawling and mildly promising, moved at a glacial place. Shaan (Aditya Roy Kapur) and Lipika (Tillotama Shome) take so much time and pain to get him into the good books of gang lord Shelly (Anil Kapoor) that it tests the viewer's patience. When one has already suspended disbelief and is willing to buy into your world, why take so excruciatingly long to set up a fairly simple premise. It's a relief that Part 2 is far crisper and briskier than its predecessor. There are ample twists and turns, and the nagging feeling of sand running out of the hourglass lends urgency to the plot and proceedings.
Still a serviceable thriller
Overall, however, The Night Manager remains a middling entry in the crowded room of thrillers that mingle in the Indian streaming space today. It lands somewhere between a slow burn and an edgy thriller, constantly battling an existential crisis. The focus dwindles from plot to characters, thus restricting the narrative to optimally juice either of them.
There's only one standout sequence that's lavishly mounted, yet is firmly focused on the characters. In the middle of a desert, Shelly makes a pitch to his prospective clients to sell lethal, sophisticated weapons. Anil Kapoor is in top form as he plays Shelly like a true-blue businessman, one who seems to be making a Powerpoint pitch in a corporate meeting. He relishes in the loud, disturbing war demo in front of him, mouthing sadistically delectable lines like “Khud ladne ki jagah ek doosre ko ladana. Agar jannat kahin hai toh yahin hai” (It's heavenly to make them fight each other) and terms like “the perfume of war,” while sniffing the ammunition fumes.
At the same time, Shaan, standing right next to him, is shellshocked. We've seen him struggle with visions from his past, trauma from being a soldier on the battlefield. Without taking us back to those visions with intermittent, razor-sharp cuts, editor Parikshhit Jha instills stillness into the moment by keeping the focus on Shaan and Shelly. As Shelly circles around Shaan singing laurels of war, one can clearly see the fear and disillusionment on Shaan's face, in the sporadic light from the firing in front of them. Cinematographers Benjamin Jasper and Anik Ram Verma efficiently use light and close-ups in this scene to paint both Shelly and Shaan's contrasting ideological personalities.
One wishes the brilliance of this sequence seeped into the rest of the show. Especially because the creator is Sandeep Modi, one of the forces behind adapting one of the best slow-burn thrillers to come out of India: Aarya. Or we could've also titlted towards the other co-writer Sridhar Raghavan's expertise. He's co-writing the YRF Spy Universe with masala films like War and Pathaan, so could've saved some spice for The Night Manager as well.
Instead, we get limp dialogues (by Akshat Ghildial and Shantanu Shrivastava) like “jo jitna upar hota hai, uske girne par utne hi zyada tukde hote hain” and “jhooth main tumhe bol nahi sakta aur sach main tumhe batana nahi chahta.” But then it also depends on the actor mouthing them.
Anil Kapoor can look cool while telling Shaan, “You're my lead actor, you're my star,” menacing while saying “tumhe unse darr lag gaya par mujhse nahi laga?," cocky while saying, “This is Arabia and I'm the Lawrence of Arabia” and witty while asking his girlfriend Kaveri (Sobhita Dhulipala), whom he suspects of having an affair, “How was the ride? I hope not too bouncy.” Watch out for the actor when he breaks into a wide grin after discovering he's been framed. That reaction is a concoction of embarrassment, regret, power and relief. Or when he doesn't let go of a big deal and continues to negotiate even on the verge of a bomb blast (read: praan jaye par paisa na jaaye).
Tillotama Shome takes the cake for being the next best actor. While the first part mostly saw her engaging in mind games and crafting old school intel operations, Part 2 shows her as a pregnant woman who can save her a** physically on more than one occasion. She revels in throwing words like ‘uterus’ and ‘ovary’ at an all-men inquiry committee probing her or when she enters her home that's been broken into and says, “Fir raid kar di.” Watch out for the climactic encounter between the two heavyweights, Tillotama and Anil, as they play a metal game of chess while sipping on tea in ivory white cups.
In contrast, Aditya Roy Kapur and Sobhita Dhulipala as the conventional leads look rather pale. It helps that Aditya can channel his emotional unavailability or understated drama because his character of an undercover agent demands that. But beyond a point, we want our leading man to emote more than a brick wall. Sobhita's arc showed promise, but she ends up in a pretty predictable spot as a rich man's keep and a noble man's love. It's disappointing that co-directors Sandeep Modi and Priyanka Ghosh couldn't really milk the steamy chemistry between the two leads.
That remains the overriding grouse with The Night Manager as a whole. When you have so much going for the show - a sizzling chemistry between the leads, two terrific actors at opposite ends, a ready layout and a mix of masala and slow-burn energies, the end result has to be nothing short of spectacular. But unfortunately, at its very best, The Night Manager is merely serviceable.