The Night Manager director Sandeep Modi: Sometimes a director’s job is not to tell actors what to do, but to remind them what not to do – Exclusive – Times of India

night manager director Sandeep Modi spoke candidly with ETimes about the adaptation, the toughest challenge they faced while making the series, cast and crew, strategy and much more. Excerpts from the conversation:

What was the strategy behind releasing Part 1 and Part 2 four months apart?

It took 3 years to make this show. As a filmmaker, I keenly feel that the audience should enjoy the show the way it was conceived. This is a story for me. It is a very emotional story of a man who has witnessed a crime and is reacting to it. He is ready to turn his whole world upside down to right the wrongs.
I’m not a big fan of the notion that all stories should be broadcast. There are two major OTT platforms that have made their mark. One is Netflix who came in as the disruptor and said we’ll get out of this together. The HBO show The Wire was once a week but it was a great show. Now, you can see that Netflix changed their strategy and split the season into two parts. While it’s nice to disrupt and do something different, the joy of a story isn’t always in forcing people to watch for eight hours.
Do you think when the audience is watching the fifth episode in the fifth hour with their eyes wide open, are they seeing it in the right spirit? So, when we were editing the show it was an unspoken rule that it would be streamed simultaneously. It started with me saying, “Can we drop by weekly?” When I saw the completed edit, I thought it was such an intricately crafted show and great work put into it, it might be better as a weekly drop. So, that’s how the conversation started – can we present this show to the audience in a different way?
And it was the collective wisdom including the forum that suggested that instead of the weekly drop, we go for Part 1 and Part 2. Because otherwise, we would have ended during the IPL. Along with this, many big films were also released. So, thus it was decided. Whatever time we had because of the lag, we put in polishing it.

Do you think about casting when you write? Any comment on Hrithik Roshan being the first choice for the role of Shaan Sengupta?

In the last fourteen years I have written twelve screenplays of which only one has been made into a film. It’s not about who you want. It is also about what the actors want in their lives at this point in time. What is his career stage and development? Secondly, each character has its own destiny. Ultimately, it’s not about who was considered first, it’s about who we cast and who makes the character our own.
I have learned the lesson never think of an actor. Then you start writing around an actor. When you think of a character, the actor can easily become the character. Sometimes, in the supporting cast, I choose people I know. I also steal the names of the characters. Naren who is Lipika’s (Tilottama Shome) husband in The Night Manager is one of my closest friends and business partners. I keep borrowing things from life around me. The guy playing Angelo whom BJ has hired to keep an eye on Shaan is actually the sound recordist and sound designer of the show. His name is Yatri Dave. I was adamant to cast him.
I say this very openly Aditya Roy Kapoor Also we had approached many actors. I will not name anyone. But finally, when we approached Aditya, it felt like the right choice. Where you are hungry for an actor, the actor was hungry to do the same. It was the kind of role he was looking forward to playing at this stage of his career. And he was ready to give the necessary amount of energy for glory. It is most special for me to play five looks of the character during such an emotional phase in five years.

what was it like working with Anil Kapoor,

He is a gem and I connect with him on a deep, personal level now. Whether we have work or not, I make an effort to call her and talk. We had lunch together. He is a great mind. The way he has kept himself alive not only with his energy but also by molding himself with time. He has kept himself alive in the minds of the audience and filmmakers. He is very young, fit and disciplined in this matter. He says, “I’m a marathon guy.” And he believes that sometimes, my part may not be the best part in the film but I want to be available there so that the best parts come to me. And I want to stay fit, healthy and hungry for it – not only in India but also abroad. I love this thing about him and have become a huge fan of him after knowing him and directing him.

Does he ask for retakes?

He really understands the set and what is required so well that very rarely does he ask for extra takes. If he does, you need to give him the space to do so. He doesn’t check the shot by coming to the monitor. All he does is go to the sound recordist and listen to the dialogue to hear his voice. He had found a tone for Shelley, so he would wear headphones and check if his tone was right. His attention to detail is quite impeccable.

What about female characters?

Sobhita Dhulipala One of the most exciting young talents not only in the OTT sector but across India. She works with Mani Ratnam, she does indie cinema, she is working with Zoya Akhtar. He is like a chameleon. She can adjust and mold herself to any part given to her. She is very educated girl. The way she expresses her thoughts is so beautiful. He is extremely intelligent and sharp. He has a great understanding of complex characters. Some people are wise beyond their years and Sobhita is one of them.

How did you cast Ravi Behl?

The credit for this goes to Mukesh Chhabra. He saw Ravi sir somewhere in Versova and he was having coffee or something and he sent me his picture saying, “Look, I’ve got your Jaiveer Singh.” It took me a moment to recognize Ravi sir with his beard and everything. So, we met once and it was on.

When films are not running in theaters and OTT seems to be a safe space, you are going to direct a film for Dharma Productions…

OTT and theaters have their own fun. I think some stories are meant to be seen in theatres, which can be enjoyed with 200-300 people. That energy is totally different. And I’m not taking the risk, the makers are. So, you can ask them this question. I am having a great time. I’m connecting more with stories and how I tell them differently. These are just steps. I am sure once the right stories come out, people will support them.

What would you say about Aditya Roy Kapur and Anil Kapoor’s process?

Both have their own processes. I have a different process with each of them. Anil sir reads the dialogues months in advance and writes his dialogues in the book. He practices a lot.
With Aditya, it is not so much about lines and emotions but what emotions you bring to the scene. So, we do a lot of work on what the thought process is, why the character is there, etc.
Both the actors belong to different schools and both are brilliant in their own way. You have to support them in some way to get the best out of them. They are very senior. I have fought for fourteen years. Aditya has been around and has worked very hard. Anil sir has been there for 40 years. I am a 40 year old man. Sometimes, the director’s job is not to tell the actors what to do, but to remind them what not to do.