The Hindi adaptation of UK mini-series The Night Manager, based on the John Le Carre novel, is shaping up to be one of the most highly-anticipated shows in a busy Indian web series season. Produced by The Ink Factory and Banijay Asia for Disney+ Hotstar, the show is set to start streaming on February 17.
Sandeep Modi, who is on board as director and showrunner of the Hindi version, with Priyanka Ghosh as co-director, has creatively helmed the project and tells Deadline of an ambition to shoot a second season in India. “I keep joking with Simon [Cornwell, Le Carre’s son and co-CEO of The Ink Factory] that we’ll make season two before you do and you can use that for the English version,” says Modi.
The first adaptation of the novel, for BBC and AMC back in 2016, was a ratings hit and rumors of a second run have continued ever since without an official announcement. Le Carre passed away in December 2020.
While a second Indian season has so far not been commissioned by Disney+ Hotstar, Cornwell says he’s open to the idea: “I would love to see a season two of The Night Manager in India.”
Further seasons of British scripted formats in India are not without precedent: Disney+ Hotstar’s Criminal Justice has run to three seasons despite Peter Moffat’s original legal thriller for the BBC running for just two in 2008-2009.
‘Like touching an electric wire’
In the new Night Manager, Anil Kapoor plays the role of an international arms dealer, played by Hugh Laurie in the original, while Aditya Roy Kapur plays the character who infiltrates his circle, played by Tom Hiddleston in the original. Sridhar Raghavan (Pathaan) wrote the screenplay and the cast also includes acclaimed actresses Sobhita Dhulipala and Tillotama Shome.
Like the original, the show is billed as an epic thriller set against exotic locations, but the creators spent many months working on the script to ensure it was a real adaptation, rather than a cut and paste remake, and that the soul of it was Indian.
“We all knew that with great power came great responsibility and this show has so much love across the world it was like touching an electric wire,” says Modi, who is best known as the creator of Disney+ Hotstar show Aarya, adapted from the Dutch series Penoza. “It took us a good four months to find the jumping off point because I kept asking the writers’ room, why should this be a brand new show? Why aren’t we just dubbing and releasing the original?”
He says the answers came from re-examining the motivations of the main character – what makes a hotel night manager want to become a spy? – as well as the relationships between the main characters, which have been adjusted to make the show more deeply rooted in India. “Rich people across the world have the same caviar, the same champagne, so how do you make that different?” says Modi, referring to the lavish lifestyle of the arms dealer and his entourage. “It was the emotional bonds between the characters and their journey which could be made unique.”
Cornwell says his late father’s face “lit up” when he broached the idea of an Indian adaptation. “We wanted to do something that was a journey in its own right and setting it in India was a fresh and exciting way to do that,” he says. “What Sandeep has created is fundamentally organic and just feels like it belongs in India. My personal measure of success for this show is that it resonates with an Indian audience.”
After a long writing process, the production faced the challenges of shooting during the pandemic in India, juggling actors’ schedules with multiple Covid lockdowns. A shift to Sri Lanka, which plays an important role in the story, also proved problematic. “We thought we were going to this pristine place with no Covid cases, then suddenly realised the country was in crisis,” says Modi, referring to the country’s post-pandemic economic meltdown. “There was a lack of fuel and food and our vegetarian crew had difficulty getting fed.”
The production left just before the crisis reached it peak. Most of the show was shot in India, including the deserts of Jaisalmer, mountains in Shimla and major cities Delhi and Mumbai, while a second unit filmed in Bangladesh and the Middle East. But despite mostly staying in one country, Cornwell says the show has achieved the same impact as the original in terms of exotic locales.
“I think we travelled to at least as many locations as we did in the original, and the scale the team has achieved is breath-taking. India is a continent, not a country,” says Cornwell, who made it to the sets in Mumbai and Sri Lanka, while The Ink Factory’s Tessa Inkelaar was also on the ground throughout much of the shoot.
Cornwell adds that the show is the first of many that The Ink Factory is planning to shoot in India and the rest of Asia. Inkelaar was tasked with leading a push into the continent in 2021 when Alibaba co-founder Joe Tsai and Arthur Wang backed expansion plans through their 127 Wall production operation. Fifth Season, which is owned by Korea’s CJ ENM, is a minority shareholder in The Ink Factory.
Additional reporting by Jesse Whittock.
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