When Anil Kapoor was offered a lead role in the Hindi adaptation of UK drama series The Night Manager, his first thought was how he could apply what he’d learned while making the Indian version of U.S. crime drama 24.
Kapoor plays the role of an international arms dealer, played by Hugh Laurie in the original English-language series, based on the John le Carre novel, while Aditya Roy Kapur has been cast as the soldier turned hotel night manager infiltrating his circle, played by Tom Hiddleston in the original show.
After being approached by Disney+ Hotstar content chief Gaurav Banerjee to play the role, he started watching the English series, which had been broadcast by BBC and AMC in 2016 and streamed by Amazon Prime Video in India. “I was impressed by the original, but we had some very strong writers and talent attached to the remake from an early stage, so felt we’d be able to pull it off,” says Kapoor, in a wide-ranging interview with Deadline.
“I wanted to bring in everything I’d learned, and also unlearned, while making 24 in India,” he continues. “Of course we knew we had to do it according to Indian sensibilities and the socio-political situation here. I’m supposed to be an arms dealer, but what was the conflict and who am I selling arms to? I’d read books and heard about people like [Saudi arms dealer] Adnan Khashoggi, but there’s no real face to arms dealing here to base my character on.”
When he saw the work done by showrunner Sandeep Modi and his team of writers, he felt assured that it stood up to the original. The Ink Factory, which produced the first adaptation, is working with Banijay Asia to produce the Hindi version, scheduled to start streaming on Disney+ Hotstar on February 17. The cast also includes Sobhita Dhulipala, Tillotama Shome, Saswata Chatterjee and Ravi Behl.
Kapoor was one of the first actors and producers in the Hindi film industry to work across both film and television, as well as local and international projects. A few years after his role in Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire (2008), he starred alongside Kiefer Sutherland in Fox series 24, before producing and starring in the Hindi remake, which ran for two seasons.
He says adapting 24 for the Indian market also made him realise that too much change can be counter-productive. “I asked the writers on The Night Manager to keep the soul of the original. When we tried to change too much in 24, we started to fail. Some things need to be rewritten, but it doesn’t work when you start making changes just for the sake of it, or to avoid comparisons. So we’ve been very true to the original show.”
Also known internationally for starring in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011), Kapoor was offered a role in a major international TV series around the same time as The Night Manager, but decided to turn it down to focus on the Hindi show. He will also appear in an episode of Jeremy Renner’s upcoming Disney+ show Rennervations. But says he’s very selective in the international work he does.
“I don’t want to spread myself too thin. I had that window after Slumdog, while I was shooting 24, when I ran around town meeting everyone and said – if you can cast Chinese actors, then why not cast Indian actors? I told them there are better actors than me out there!
“But now when I’m in LA, I don’t go out and meet hundreds of people. For me, the most important thing is to know that I’m working with good people. I don’t have the knowledge or instinct to know what is really great on paper, so I make decisions based on the people involved. And so far, luckily, all the people I’ve worked with, I still have a great relationship with and know I can trust.”
Kapoor is also very busy in Mumbai. He continues to work on features, despite the boom in Indian web series production, last year starring in Dharma Productions’ Jug Jugg Jeeyo, one of the first films to hit cinemas when they finally reopened, and is currently in production on two features – Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s crime drama Animal, also starring Ranbir Kapoor, and action thriller Fighter, directed by Siddharth Anand (Pathaan) and starring Hrithik Roshan and Deepika Padukone.
He’s also known for taking a risk on smaller projects with interesting talent, most recently appearing in two films that debuted on Netflix – neo-Western Thar, which he produced with his son Harshvardhan Kapoor through his AKFC Network, and AK vs AK, a black comedy with a film-within-a-film narrative, directed by Vikramaditya Motwane and also starring Anurag Kashyap. “I said lets just go and do this for Netflix, so we can be brave enough to do it the way we want, rather than worry about the first day box office collections,” he says.
AKFC Network has also produced cricket-themed web series Selection Day for Netflix and a slew of female-oriented films produced by this daughter, Rhea Kapoor, including two upcoming films – Thank You For Coming, starring Bhumi Pednekar and Shehnaaz Gill, and The Crew, with Kareena Kapoor, Tabu and Kriti Sanon.
Kapoor says he’s pleased to see Pathaan’s current success (Yash Raj Films’ Shah Rukh Khan starrer has just become the biggest Hindi film ever) but wasn’t phased by the painful downturn in the Hindi film business over the past few years. He grew up in a showbiz family – his father worked for major Bollywood star Shammi Kapoor – so has been hearing about the ups and downs of the Hindi film industry for decades.
“These kind of rough patches come and go. Sometimes Hindi films are doing well, other times it’s films from the South or Bengali films that are getting all the attention. The only difference is that back then we didn’t have social media.”
His own career took off in the late ’80s and early ’90s with seminal films like Mr. India, Parinda and Lamhe, some of which have become classics but weren’t always huge box office hits at the time of their release. He’s also worked with major filmmakers from South India, including Mani Ratnam in Kannada-language film Pallavi Anu Pallavi at the start of his career.
One abiding trend he’s noticed over the decades is the herd mentality of the film business.
“When certain films do well, suddenly people have the confidence to put more money in, so hopefully that’s the stage we’re at now. When there’s more confidence, there’s more money, and then we have the chance to starting making technically bigger and more ambitious films.”
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