Art & Entertainment

‘The Night Manager’ Director Sandeep Modi: I Look At Vishal Bhardwaj For Inspiration; I Look At Every Adaptation Like Adapting A William Shakespeare Play

The secret to successfully translating an international story for an Indian audience is all about approaching the plot like a Shakespearean adaptation, says Sandeep Modi, the creator and director of the Indian version of "The Night Manager".

Sandeep Modi

The secret to successfully translating an international story for an Indian audience is all about approaching the plot like a Shakespearean adaptation, says Sandeep Modi, the creator and director of the Indian version of "The Night Manager".

Modi should know as he has done it not once but twice. He was the co-director on the first season of the Sushmita Sen-starrer "Aarya", a Hindi adaptation of the hit Dutch series "Penoza". After "Aarya", he took on the challenge to translate John le Carre's famous novel despite it already having a popular British version.

"For me, the approach is, 'How would you adapt Shakespeare in today's context?' I look at every adaptation like adapting a Shakespearean (play)," Modi, also known for "Chumbak", told PTI in an interview.

"Sometimes I look at Vishal Bhardwaj sahab for inspiration. How did he take a 'Hamlet' and make a 'Haider'? How would he do that?" he said, referring to the director famous for adapting William Shakespeare's three tragedies "Macbeth" ("Maqbool"), "Othello" into "Omkara", and "Hamlet" as "Haider".

According to Modi, one has to stay true to the cultural nuances of the place while setting the story.

"It's the plot which you take, but everything around and the way the plot moves is done by the characters we create and the cultural nuances. It's the cultural adaptation that matters the most," he said.

The first part of "The Night Manager", starring Aditya Roy Kapur, Anil Kapoor, Sobhita Dhulipala and Tillotama Shome, released on Disney+ Hotstar in February and became an instant hit.

Modi, who as the creator not only oversaw the writers' room but also other aspects of bringing the show together, also swears by the formula of not taking anything that's too perfect.

In the case of "The Night Manager", he said, he was not a fan of the critically-acclaimed 2016 British drama that featured Hugh Laurie, Olivia Colman and Tom Hiddleston.

"I felt it could be done better. The book is not a story of a writer who is glorifying spies. He would like you to believe that there are no spies. He understands that spying is a dirty job.

"I wanted to tell the story of who he is before he becomes the spy. I wanted to explore why a regular guy who works at a hotel and who is not even someone who wears his country on his sleeves, would put his life at risk to become a spy? I found it a story more about guilt than that of two men and war," he added.

Modi said Kapoor was the perfect man to play Shelly Rungta, an arms dealer, adding that the veteran star was "surprised" when the director approached him.

"He asked me, 'How could you see a villain in me?' I said, 'Sir, deep inside, every villain is a hero. It is just being seen from a different side'. He came onboard and once that happened, we realised that we wanted it to be a 'David versus Goliath' story," he said.

And Modi wanted someone unassuming to be the hero, which he found in Roy Kapur's Shaan Sengupta, a former Indian Navy lieutenant who goes undercover to bring down Shelly's empire.

"Aditya is a fabulous actor and I feel has not got his due in his work yet. His best is yet to come. He felt like the right guy and I went to meet him. He opened the door, he was taking care of his dog that day when we met. He sat and he heard the story... He made coffee for me.

"He is the kind of the guy you need when you have the forces of someone like Anil Kapoor. You should always worry that casting should be balanced... A show like this needs balance and that became the crux of the show."

Shome as intelligence agent Lipika Saikia Rao, who is Shaan's handler, was the director's answer to Oscar winner Colman.

"I was personally very keen to cast Tillotama. I was like who is our Olivia Colman? Olivia is a strong woman playing a strong character. I would cast somebody who is an ace actor but not from mainstream Hindi cinema but someone who does really interesting offbeat work. I wanted to make a statement that strong is not what's outside but what's in your brain," Modi added.

The director said he may have felt confident in taking a popular international show and serving a new version to the Indian viewers but now that the second part is ready to release on June 30, he feels "anxious" about the finale living up to the expectations.

"We knew in four hours because the show (season one) crashed Hotstar's servers, it seems. We knew the first day," he said, recalling the initial response to the series.

Modi said they decided to split the series into two parts because he didn't want the show to come and be forgotten in a week.

"We were like we don't know whether India is ready for a weekly drop but we can split it in two and let people savour it, talk about it and see whether they like it. We were confident of the story that we had put together. It was compelling, large, glossy and had a beating heart," he added.


Next on the cards for Modi is a collaboration with Karan Johar.

As far as the future is concerned, the director said, "I'm keen to tell entertaining stories that matter and stay with you even after the viewing hour."