Deepak Dhar, founder and CEO of Banijay Asia, reveals how hit BBC series The Night Manager, based on the novel by John le Carré, was translated for Indian audiences.
What was the appeal of making an Indian version of The Night Manager?
The Night Manager is a widely loved story by John le Carré and the original adaptation in the UK was very well received. The story has substance, a strong narrative arc and is full
The market for remakes is ripe, with the Indian diaspora having now opened up to a multitude of international adaptations. We have seen how successful they can be with series such as Hostages and Call My Agent: Bollywood, which we produced for Netflix. We also have a host of original formats in our pipeline, as well as adaptations of The Good Wife, House and Monk, to name a few. What these shows all have in common are compelling stories that are significant and relatable. In this vein, The Night Manager, with its marvellous legacy, was therefore a no-brainer to adapt in India.
What elements of the original series impressed you most?
The Ink Factory’s original show did a fantastic job in setting up the characters and working with multiple nuances. From an unassuming Jonathan Pine [Tom Hiddleston] walking into the den of Richard Roper [Hugh Laurie], to the intricate web of lies laid down within the plot, there were many aspects of the story that jumped out at us. The extremes and the dichotomy of the worlds are what drew us in further, and that’s how the story of the adaptation started.
What were your initial thoughts about how it should be adapted for local viewers?
At Banijay Asia, we are always looking for content that is relatable; stories that need to be told, tap into the very emotions of our country, are relevant and take into account the geopolitical situation.
Adapting The Night Manager for Disney+ Hotstar was a rigorous process even with very clear hook points vis-à-vis the depth of characters, the violence of war and the dichotomy of two worlds. We have strived since day one to connect the stories to our homeland. Our director Sandeep Modi and co-director Priyanka Ghosh did an outstanding job with the vision and execution, along with the writing team, headed by Sridhar Raghavan, who adapted the screenplay, and Shantanu Srivastava and Akshat Ghildial, who added their nuances to the dialogue to create a story that resonates.
We also had the opportunity to work with Simon Cornwell and Tessa Inkelaar from The Ink Factory, who we could bounce ideas off and make sure we were staying true to the format. It was a labour of love, but we were armed with their international expertise and our local understanding.
How was the series pitched to, and developed with, Disney Plus Hotstar?
The idea of bringing The Night Manager to India is something that Simon and The Ink Factory were harbouring with Disney, and slowly and steadily nurturing it. Once they knew the ingredients of what this Indian dish would look like, they needed a kitchen to make the dish. That’s when we came on board to cook it. Knowing that The Night Manager was a beast greater than the sum of all its parts, the teams across The Ink Factory with their knowledge of the format, Disney with their ability to take a punt on big ideas and Banijay with their ability to efficiently execute big ideas, came together to strategise, write, adapt, execute, and finally deliver the show.
It has been our great privilege to work on this project and kudos to The Ink Factory and Disney on taking this bet. The show was developed beautifully under the tutelage of Sandeep Modi and Sridhar Raghavan. They made it different and stand apart amongst a large number of spy shows. Shows like The Night Manager come once in a while, and it felt great to be a part of this.
How did you use the original scripts – and John le Carré’s novel – to build the series?
The original British show and the novel by John le Carré were our blueprints for the underlying emotions. The intensity and gravity of situations cannot be trivialised in the process of localisation. We have, therefore, created something as true to the original as possible while making it relatable to a very different time, demographic and culture.
How would you describe the writing process?
It was very rigorous. We were working with The Ink Factory and there was an extensive writers room, headed by Sridhar and Sandeep. It took over a year of writing, rewriting and going back to the board to finalise the adapted screenplay for the show. It was a learning experience and an amalgamation of creativity, as we wanted to convey international sensibilities as well as local emotions.
What kind of look and style does the series have, and how was this achieved?
This was a huge-scale production with exceptional acting talent like Aditya Roy Kapur and Anil Kapoor, but at the same time we wanted to make it realistic and grounded. The den of the antagonist [Kapoor’s Shelly] needs to convey the depth of betrayal, lies, deception and duplicity in the story.
The award-winning Benjamin Jasper was our director of photography and, having worked on War and Bang Bang, he has extensive experience in creating dynamic, action-packed worlds. We also had a brilliant team of production designers led by Saini S Johray and N Madhusudhan. Adding to them a very dedicated team of writers helmed by Sridhar and directors Sandeep and Priyanka, we have created a story, told by a very talented team, that will have you on the edge of your seat.
How did you cast the series and were the performances in the original show a factor in your decisions?
We wanted to stick to the original as much as possible while bringing in the Indian emotion that works for our audience.
We were on the lookout for an actor who could portray the intensity of the unassuming night manager whose innocence camouflages his intense past. Aditya Roy Kapur fit this role like a glove. And Anil Kapoor is a legendary star and a brilliant performer – working with him was a masterclass every day and he truly embodied the role of Shelly.
The British performances were a factor in casting for the Indian adaptation and I would say it has worked out well.
Where was the series filmed?
We shot the series over a plethora of terrains, from the beaches of Sri Lanka to the arid Indian deserts of Jaisalmer, and the snowy mountains of Shimla and Manali.
What challenges did you face, either in development or production?
We shot the show primarily in the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic and, in order to keep the cast and crew safe, we required a lot of health protocols – especially when flying the crew to multiple locations. One of many protocols was setting up a ‘bio bubble’ to ensure the safety of all the crew and cast. Additionally, when we were shooting in Sri Lanka, the country was facing an economic crisis. Through all these challenges, we knew we had to be very respectful of John le Carré’s legacy and not compromise on the storytelling, performances, depth of characters or the scale of the show.
As original content is seen around the world, what do you think are the benefits of localised remakes?
It’s a great way to expand your markets and tell stories to a larger audience. It’s an opportunity to turn cultural differences into a major advantage for content to travel. With local remakes, you already have a reference point on how to create a hit series and, ultimately, an acclaimed show in a different part of the world. Adaptations just push us a little more towards a world where content travels across borders, and people connect with it because you adapt it to their sensibilities. To top it off, it was fun to explore the world of Jonathan Pine and Richard Roper with an Indian crew and cast.