Charlie Hunnam plays an Aussie escapee searching for enlightenment in Apple TV's new redemption drama.

It’s certainly taken a long time for Shantaram to reach screens.

The book written by Australian author Gregory David Roberts, based on his life escaping Pentridge Prison and fleeing to India, was published in 2003. It was first mooted for the screen as a feature with Russell Crowe in that same year, then Johnny Depp, and by 2014 with Joel Edgerton.

By 2018 it had pivoted to a 10 part series with Charlie Hunnam in the lead, with filming underway in Bhopal, India, by November 2019. Filming was suspended in February 2020 with monsoons and then a pandemic, finally restarting in May 2021 in Melbourne (where it was always due to film anyway) and Thailand.

Thankfully viewers would have little sense of such delays in watching the series directed by Bharat Nalluri, Iain B. MacDonald and Bronwen Hughes and Hunnam makes for a charismatic leading man.

The action begins out of the blocks with a daring escape from Pentridge Prison in 1982. There’s little time to dwell on his crime or sentence, save for the burning desire to escape with one agitated cell mate.

After brazenly descending the walls, he reaches the home of his father (Nicholas Bell) who draws upon philosophy to help set up our narrative.

“You havent escaped anything unless you go onto something. So what do you want to be?” he asks.

“I want to be the man I was going to be before all of this,” Roberts replies.

And there you have it. Failed son is challenged by his old man to prove himself and restart his life. To do this he flees to Bombay, courtesy of some cash and a fake passport. Now known as New Zealand expat Lin Ford, he befriends cocky local tour guide Prabhu (Shubham Saraf) and alluring expat translator Karla (Antonia Desplat) who hangs out at a bar where hookers, pimps and dodgy underworld characters frequent.

Lin draws upon all his streetwise know-how, and accent skills, to slide in with this crowd, whilst staying in a cheap room and avoiding the Indian police. But flashbacks to prison torture under malevolent copper (David Field) remind us he is always on guard, seeking redemption and maybe a little Eastern enlightenment.

Money is running short and trouble seems to be around the next corner in this busy quarter, it’s lucky for us that the stifling heat results in Hunnam being frequently shirtless, if sporting a man-bun. His Aussie accent is actually very passable, save for a few moments of trying a bit too hard.

While the backdrop is visually exotic (much of which is Bangkok), there is an abundance of lingering scenes, which drag out the story. I get that Lin is looking for enlightenment, but I’m looking for entertainment. I’d prefer for him to reach a state of transcendental meditation, or being at one with self, without me feeling like I am on the same journey.

There’s also an intermittent voice-over by Hunnam which I found pretty unnecessary, but if not for the leading man, this would struggle in a sea of content.

Along the way you’ll find other Aussies such as Fayssal Bazzi, Rahel Romahn, Arka Das amongst others and spotting locations such as South Yarra and Ripponlea dressed as India, is quite fun.

I can’t say whether I will make it through all 10 episodes, but I am reminded of the original plans for a movie and feel it may have been a slightly better option. Peace out.

Shantaram screens Friday on Apple TV+.

5 Responses

  1. World class show and visuals are incredible…..but, yes but…..during the post-production of this show…How did nobody pick up on how bad his Voice Over/Narration sounds? His accent is terrible and jarring. Makes those moments comedically bad and just a terrible choice (Actor is great / accent & delivery is contrived)

  2. This show is not really my cup of tea, but I do agree that showrunners / studio producers could put aside their commercial considerations and be more aware of the plot limitations of their screenplay/ product and decide that it could be a creatively better choice to make a TV movie than make a TV series. The opposite cold be said for some movies as well.

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