Brilliant, beautiful, and surprisingly timeless, Gregory David Robert’s epic portrait of his own unbelievable 1980s Bombay underworld tale finally gets its first cinematic preview
This week saw the release of Apple TV+’s long-awaited first look at Shantaram — an upcoming series that brings Gregory David Roberts’ bestselling novel to life.
Portrayed onscreen by Sons of Anarchy star Charlie Hunnam, the show will attempt to capture Roberts’ inspired-by-real-life story of being a convicted bank robber in Australia, escaping onto the shores of Bombay in the 1980s, and falling into a whirlwind tale of romance, conflict, underworld politics, and much more.
Ever since 2003, when it was released, Shantaram has been appreciated for capturing the essence of 1980s India and Pakistan from the eyes of an outsider — a topic that the author discusses even today.
Here are some of the most iconic scenes from the book that I can’t wait to see captured on camera:
Sure, this one’s a bit cliché as far as Mumbaikars go, but the café’s long history combined with personal memories makes it a big highlight of the book. In the novel, the protagonist Lin finds himself exploring the bylanes of Colaba with tour guide Prabaker — who becomes one of his closest allies. Introducing him to a circle of small-time criminals, Lin finds himself hanging out at their preferred haunt — none other than Leopold’s itself.
Midway through the novel, Lin — who becomes a sort-of unofficial ‘slum doctor’ — finds himself deeply in love with a Swiss-American woman named Karla. Enigmatic and irresistible to Lin, he finds himself locking horns with underworld figures in an attempt to help her. As Lin fights off the 1980s cholera epidemic from within the slums, Karla shows up to assist Lin, and the pair kick off a surprisingly sweet love story — although it doesn’t last for too long.
While Lin’s journey often sees him play dangerous games with seedy criminals, an exciting subplot involves his close brush with Bollywood productions during the 80s. Casually observing and occasionally serving as an extra on film sets, Lin becomes enamored with the tropes and stories of Indian cinema, seeing it as a mirror to the chaotic, passionate, and often tragic reality he finds himself stuck within.
Drug abuse plays a heavy role in the book, with Lin himself being a heroin addict at the start of the story, and coming across an untold number of drug pushers and users throughout his life. It’s interesting to chart how building a new purpose as a doctor helps Lin distance himself from his own addiction, while a horrific tragedy, later on, pulls him back into the fold once more — while his allies intervene to rescue Lin from a self-destructive bender.
Long after Lin becomes a mainstay of Mumbai’s criminal underworld, he finds himself drawn into the Afghan conflict of the 1980s, fighting on the side of the US-backed Mujahideen. This takes Lin through the mountains of Pakistan, giving us a brief glimpse of its culture — while the Afghan mission falls apart tragically, Lin comes back a changed man — moving on from his romance with Karla and becoming something of a combat medic for hire.
Helmed by showrunner Steve Lightfoot (Hannibal, The Punisher), the series also stars Shubham Saraf, Elektra Kilbey, Fayssal Bazzi, Luke Pasqualino, Antonia Desplat, Alyy Khan, Sujaya Dasgupta, Vincent Perez, David Field, Alexander Siddig, Gabrielle Scharnitzky, Elham Ehsas, Rachel Kamath, Matthew Joseph, and Shiv Palekar.
Shantaram will make its global debut with the first three episodes of its 12-episode first season on Friday, October 14, 2022, followed by one new episode weekly every Friday through December 16, 2022, on Apple TV+.
Lead Image: Apple TV+