{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

When Nasir ‘Naz’ Khan (Riz Ahmed), a shy, maths-loving college student in New York is invited to a party that holds the promise of “mad females”, he’s elated. He makes plans with a friend to drive there, but as his luck would have it, his friend cancels at the last minute. Naz is so desperate that he decides to borrow (read steal) his father’s cab to drive to the party. It’s not the greatest drive, with him being unable to figure out how to switch the ‘off duty’ light on, resulting in random people getting into his cab asking to be driven around. To make matters worse, he gets lost. It is when he stops to figure out his way that a beautiful young girl gets into his cab, and Naz decides that he’ll drive her, setting into motion a chain of events that will alter his life forever.

Naz and his mysterious, beautiful passenger (Sofia Black-D’Elia) whose name he doesn’t know end up taking a long drive, having copious amounts of alcohol, and fall into bed. Naz wakes up in the kitchen, and when he goes up to the bedroom to say goodbye, he sees her body, bleeding and brutally stabbed. He makes a run, only to get caught for drunk driving. It isn’t long before the police put two and two together and sweet, soft-spoken, wide-eyed Naz becomes the lone and prime suspect in a gory murder.

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Naz now faces a future in jail, and must learn to deal with life in prison, forge bonds with other convicts for his own safety and decide whether or not he should place faith in his lawyers, or in his own memory of events.

The Night Of is a tightly paced mini-series (it only has eight episodes in total) which covers a variety of themes including Islamophobia and racial prejudice in the backdrop of the American Justice system. Riz Ahmed is mesmerizing in his portrayal of Naz, a student whose life has shut down because of a mistake which he can’t even recall in full. John Turturro is also excellent as John Stone, an eczema ridden, street smart lawyer who defends petty criminals. Stone is the first lawyer who comes to Naz’s defence in jail, and decides to fight for his innocence. Bill Camp, who plays Seargent Box, a ‘subtle beast’ of a detective who isn’t convinced about the case despite all the evidence in the bag, is a treat to watch as well. Naz’s parents are played by Poorna Jagannathan and Peyman Moaadi, and they are both very convincing as hardworking, middle class immigrants grappling with the shock of their son’s arrest, the attention from the press and most importantly, the fact that they don’t know their son as well as they thought they did.

The Night Of is intense, dark, and gripping, which isn’t a surprise considering the fact that it has been directed by Steven Zaillian, who has Schindler’s List to his credit. The series has been reportedly inspired by the BBC thriller series Criminal Justice which aired sometime around 2008, but I also found that it had striking similarities with a viral podcast called Serial, that came out a few years ago. Serial unraveled a real murder of a young girl that had happened in Baltimore in the late ‘90s, where the accused was also a Muslim student, Adnan Syed. Like Serial, the audience isn’t given the whole picture, and the evidence is unfolded through the course of the series as it reaches crescendo in the finale.

Although The Night Of is a short series with only eight episodes, the impact of the show is one that will stay seared in your memory for a long time to come.

{The Night Of is presently streaming on HotStar}

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