Shantaram’s journey to the screen has had a journey every bit as epic as the story in the novel by Gregory David Roberts on which it’s based.
Russell Crowe and Johnny Depp are just two of the names connected to abandoned projects since the book debuted in 2003.
So, what’s the problem? Well, in this 12-part adaptation, it’s plain to see: there’s just too much to pack in (the novel stretches to a door-stopping 900-plus pages) as the story loops around the story of escaped bank robber Lin’s quest for personal freedom and the intricate politics of 1980s Bombay, a city of extreme wealth and desperate poverty.
It’s that latter strand that too often stops Shantaram in its tracks. Where it truly comes alive is in the relationship between Charlie Hunnam’s Lin and Shubham Saraf as Prabhu, the small-time Bombay fixer he encounters as soon as he steps off the train.
It’s in their easy bromance, with Prabhu sensing the good in Lin that Lin doesn’t even see himself, that gives Shantaram a true sense of heart and life.
So much so that it makes the sections devoted to big-money Bombay corruption involving scheming politicians, high class madames and endless drug deals feel, well, rather dull.
And it’s hard to see why Lin is drawn to Karla, a Premier League fixer compared to Prabhu’s non-Leaguer, given that she’s played with an irksome mixture of smugness and disdain by Antonia Desplat, who seems woefully miscast.
Yes, it’s a bumpy ride. But the evocation of the tumult of 1980s Bombay is vibrantly executed and Hunnam is a revelation as Lin, the anti-hero of this epic, who brings just the right mix of blokey physicality and sensitivity to the character around whom the whole tale spins.
One tip though: don’t play a whisky drinking game every time Hunnam whips his shirt off in episode one. You won’t make it to the credits.
Streaming now on Apple TV+.