‘Shantaram’ Starring Charlie Hunnam Is The Thrilling Escape You’ve Been Waiting For
— Updated on 6 March 2023

‘Shantaram’ Starring Charlie Hunnam Is The Thrilling Escape You’ve Been Waiting For

— Updated on 6 March 2023
Garry Lu
Garry Lu

When Apple TV+ released the first image of Charlie Hunnam in its long-awaited adaptation of Shantaram, the internet (understandably) lost its mind.

In line with the annoying modern habit we’ve developed of forming narratives without investigating any further – often times without even clicking into the goddamn article – many assumed the British actor was revisiting familiar and beloved territory a la Jax Teller of FX’s Sons of Anarchy. Present company included.

But we couldn’t have been any more wrong.

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“I thought that was very cheeky,” said Charlie Hunnam in reference to the trap pretty much everybody fell for.

“I’m on a motorcycle in the show for approximately two minutes maximum over the course of 12 hours, so I hope people don’t get too excited thinking that this is some sort of Sons of Anarchy in India. Because that’s not what we’re delivering.”

“The show is so radically different and the characters are so radically different.”

And radically different Apple TV+’s Shantaram is — in the best possible sense.

Based on the semi-biographical novel written by convicted Australian bank robber, Gregory David Roberts, the series follows a fugitive named Dale Conti / Lin Ford (Charlie Hunnam), who escapes from Victoria’s dreary Pentridge Prison to the vibrant and somehow equally chaotic city of Bombay (now Mumbai) during the 1980s.

Alone in a strange and unfamiliar environment, Lin struggles to avoid the very trouble he’s been running from. And after falling for an “enigmatic and intriguing” woman named Karla (Antonia Desplat), he’s forced to choose between freedom or love, navigating all the complications that come along with it.

Complications that, in this case, venture beyond the realm of your regular will-they-won’t-they tensions, and into the realm of full-blown political conspiracy.

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Where Jax Teller’s entire character arc involves coming to terms with being a career criminal – carrying on the legacy established by his outlaw father; but ensuring the buck stopped with him – Lin Ford is a classic case of an individual who simply stumbled and lost his way, now desperately clawing towards the mere prospect of moral redemption.

In a landscape littered with dragon-riding monarchs, superheroes, and gangland warfare, it’s a refreshing change of pace to watch a drama that doesn’t shy away from espousing the uplifting aspects of human nature (i.e. a desire to better oneself and help one’s fellow man), a drama slightly more grounded. Well… at least as grounded as you can get with a story about an Aussie bank robber on the lam.

Shantaram Is The Thrilling Escape You've Been Waiting For

Having only previewed the first handful of episodes so far, what we can already say for certain is this: Charlie Hunnam is an incredibly magnetic screen presence, oozing with charm as Dale Conti / Lin Ford at every possible turn.

Accompanied by a very game cast featuring Shubham Saraf, Antonia Desplat, Elektra Kilbey, Fayssal Bazzi, Luke Pasqualino, and so forth, you find yourself hanging on the key players’ every word. Even during those brief moments when the plot seems to plod aimlessly.

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Battling COVID-19 restrictions, monsoon season, and a capped budget – although let’s be honest, $100 million is extremely generous – Aussie cinematographer Stefan Duscio has crafted a stunningly cinematic visual feast in collaboration with the series’ directors. Certainly no small compliment in an eradefined by premium television content.

From capturing the sprawling nature of Bombay to the rich colour palettes, even subtle camera placement here and there, it certainly ranks among one of the better executed entertainment offerings that’ve premiered in 2022.

We recently spoke to Shantaram co-creator & showrunner Steve Lightfoot and Charlie Hunnam himself. Here’s how it went down.

Shantaram Interview

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[Mentions offhandedly I’m based in Sydney.]

Charlie Hunnam: The second-best Australian city.

Ah God… you had to go there, didn’t you? You just had to go there.

Charlie Hunnam: [Laughs.] To be honest with you, I’ve only ever spent one night in Sydney and I absolutely loved it. But then I spent, maybe, five to six months in Melbourne. So I just know Melbourne much, much better.

OK, so time’s definitely on Melbourne’s side.

Charlie Hunnam: Yeah… it’s alright.

So between this and Papillion, Charlie you’ve officially become typecast as the dude who needs to escape from prison.

Charlie Hunnam: That does appear to be the case.

Of course, Apple did something extremely cheeky for the marketing of Shantaram. They dropped that snapshot of Charlie on the motorcycle when the character’s, like, the antithesis of Jax Teller.

Charlie Hunnam: [Laughs.] I understand why Apple wanted to release that picture and, you know, it’s their prerogative, but I do think it’s a really important point you’re making.

These shows, and particularly these characters… I mean, really the only connective tissue is the fact that I play both, I’m in both shows. They’re wildly different environments, themes, and the character itself, I think, is very, very different.

Steve Lightfoot: Shantaram is a big rollicking escapist adventure, which I love, but it’s about a guy looking for redemption and trying to, you know, like a version of himself he sees in the mirror. And I feel like that’s all of us. So that’s kind of what I keyed into.

“I think drama works best – whether it’s huge fantasy, what we’re doing, or something tiny – is when ultimately, whatever those characters are going through is a version we can all empathise with.”

Shantaram Is The Thrilling Escape You've Been Waiting For

Adaptations are notoriously tricky beasts. How do you find the balance between respecting the source material of something as expansive as Gregory David Roberts’ novel while making it essentially your own?

Charlie Hunnam: Thankfully, that challenge didn’t rest squarely on my shoulders. A lot of the weight of that had to be shouldered by Steve Lightfoot, our writer who was tasked with doing the actual adaptation, and writing our script for us.

I absolutely love Shantaram as a novel, it’s one of my favourite novels, and so, there’s the sense of obligation to get it right, to honour what Greg did so wonderfully in that book. And then there are elements that, for an adaptation, that…

We couldn’t have this be in first-person story the way the novel is written. Because we needed India to be a character in itself. Not have me tell the audience what I thought about India. Or what Lin thought about India.

“There’s a certain level of fear and, you know, a sense of desperately wanting to get it right.”

Steve Lightfoot: It’s good people working together. Obviously I wrote the script, I had a vision of it in my head. And I always felt, in a way, the book reminded me of those great 60s movies. Doctor Zhivago and that sort of sweeping romantic epic with these great characters.

I talked to director Bharat Nalluri about it, who had a similar vision. He was born in India, so he had a real take on how that should look. He and I met Stefan Duscio, amazing Australian cinematographer, and he brought things in, you know: “We should definitely this in widescreen and make it really cinematic.”

So as you bring people on and they bring all of that knowledge and passion for the show, it becomes its own thing. I was very pleased with how it all ended up.

“You always have to find the heart of the book. You might not put every scene in, you might not put every incident in… but what’s the book about?”

Shantaram Is The Thrilling Escape You've Been Waiting For

Assuming it gets a second season, which I think it will because it’s bloody phenomenal…

Charlie Hunnam: Thank you.

… what direction would you like to see it go?

Charlie Hunnam: Well here’s the thing, my brother… We felt an incredibly strong conviction that Lin needed to be neutral, and stripped down, and naked in this first season. And relatable. Just sort of an ordinary human being like you or I, that may have made a mistake, that radically altered the trajectory of his life.

I didn’t want to feel the weight or the baggage or the consequence of that writ large on his personality. Because I felt that was going to inhibit the arc, you know, the journey that we could go on.

Some of our producing partners felt very strongly that one of the most enticing and exciting elements of the book was the underworld. There was a lot of discussion about bringing the underworld elements in sooner.

But I was very reticent to allow that to happen, because I felt as though it was going to paint Lin into a corner of having to be a tool within that world. Which I thought was too soon for us to see that colour.

The ultimate journey of this for Lin is navigating his internal forces of lightness and dark, and we want the darkness to come, and be able to get through that to get to the light, but I didn’t think that was necessarily what we wanted to be focused on in season 1.

Shantaram has been co-created, written, and executive produced by Steve Lightfoot, who cut his teeth with the likes of Transporter: The SeriesHannibal, and Narcos, before stepping up as the showrunner for Marvel’s The Punisher. Lightfoot also served as showrunner this time around.

In the director’s chair, you’ll find Bharat Nalluri (Tsunami: The AftermathThe 100Spooks: The Greater Good) and Australia’s own Justin Kurzel (MacbethAssassin’s CreedTrue History of the Kelly Gang), who also executive produced alongside Andrea Barron, Nicole Clemens, Steve Golin, plus co-creator Eric Warren Singer (American HustleTop Gun: Maverick).

Shantaram is now streaming Apple TV+ with the remaining instalments of its 12-episode run dropped every Friday.

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Garry Lu
After stretching his legs with companies such as The Motley Fool and the odd marketing agency, Garry joined Boss Hunting in 2019 as a fully-fledged Content Specialist. In 2021, he was promoted to News Editor. Garry proudly retains a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, black bruises from Muay Thai, as well as a black belt in all things pop culture. Drop him a line at [email protected]


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