4 Things To Know About Charlie Hunnam's New Drama Shantaram

The Sons of Anarchy alum stars in the period drama as an escaped con who hides out in Bombay and discovers a whole new way of life — and crime.

by | October 13, 2022 | Comments

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Shantaram, the Apple TV+ series based on the slightly autobiographical Gregory David Roberts novel, stars Charlie Hunnam as an escaped Australian convict. He hides out in Bombay, only to discover a whole new way of life — and crime.

But it is not, stressed co-creator and showrunner Steve Lightfoot, meant to be a white savior story.

For one thing, Lightfoot said of his protagonist, “he keeps getting it wrong.”

“Every time he tries, he messes it up more and causes more trouble,” Lightfoot told Rotten Tomatoes. “The story is about the fact that, until he learns that he has to play by India’s rules and surrender to it and stop making the place try and work from his point of view, he’s always going to fail.”

(Photo by Apple TV+)

Hunnam explained that while his character, Lin Ford, is an upstanding guy with guilt over those who were hurt by his past sins, “I don’t know if he necessarily does have a hero complex.”

He added that, the friends and relationships he pursues in Bombay are made “really out of self-preservation.”

“I don’t think he is viewing himself as the hero of his own story or has any great aspirations to be a fixing force in the world,” Hunnam said. “He’s protected and supported by a group of people that he ultimately feels indebted to and feels like he needs to reciprocate their kindness and support. Almost reluctantly, he rises to the challenge of being a hero in whatever small capacity he’s able to do that.”

So what are some important things audiences need to know before the series premieres October 14 on Apple TV+. Rotten Tomatoes asked the showrunner, star, and other cast members for details.

1. It’s a Story of Repentance and Redemption

Shantaram antonia desplat

(Photo by Apple TV+)

Hunnam’s Lin is a convicted criminal. But he’s also a recovering heroin addict who is guilt-ridden by how his career as a bank robber and other life choices hurt others. Similarly, characters like Antonia Desplat’s mysterious and well-connected Karla and Elektra Kilbey’s damaged Lisa want to right wrongs that they saw (or caused).

Lightfoot — whose resume also includes the NBC serial killer series Hannibal, Netflix’s drug cartel drama Narcos and superhero crime drama Marvel’s The Punisher — said that “I’ve always been drawn to characters that are looking for redemption.”

“In any show you make, you’ve got to find something universal that anyone can identify with,” he said. “Not everyone’s been a cop or a bank robber or an escaped convict. But what can we empathize with? That sense of someone being aware of what they’ve done wrong in the past and trying to put it right or make amends and, ultimately, get to the point where they like the person they see in the mirror? I think that’s all of us.”

Desplat said she looks at the show as one where “all the characters are in search of their identity.”

“They’ve all escaped a troubled past or a life that they wanted to leave behind,” she continued. “They are all meeting in Bombay to try and reinvent who they are and find their true self and find redemption.”

2. It’s Not Just Lin’s Story

Shantaram Elektra-Kilbey

(Photo by Apple TV+)

The book is told in first-person and that is reflected in some voice-over narration at the beginning of the series. But it is an ensemble series where, as Kilbey put it: “It’s no longer the white male gaze. All of the characters now have individual arcs, and they have relationships and things going on between them that he is not privy to.”

Shubham Saraf plays Lin’s newfound friend and confidant, Prabhu. A hustler who understands the social hierarchy of Bombay while knowing he’s an interloper there, Prabhu (sometimes inexplicably) keeps Lin around and acts as a guide not just for him but for an audience unfamiliar with India’s cultural norms.

Shubham Saraf Shantaram

(Photo by Apple TV+)

“It’s the values with which he lives his life,” Saraf said. “That’s what friendship is; that’s what a relationship is for Prabhu. It’s not like, Do I stay with this guy or not? I’m friends with him. So I stick by him. That’s the code.”

In regards to the stereotypical trope of a Caucasian discovering the mysteries of Asia, he said “I think the show has dealt with it in a very interesting way, because it is the white man coming to India. But the medium of longform TV storytelling doesn’t work from a single perspective. This is an ensemble show. And India has become the biggest character of them all.”

3. It’s Set In the ’80s — But Not in a Cartoonish Way


(Photo by Apple TV+)

The book was published in 2003 and is set in the 1980s, but showrunner Lightfoot said that the novel reminded him of the works of Graham Greene or Ernest Hemingway. He said that one of the things he and Bharat Nalluri, an executive producer and director of the series, talked about was “if David Lean was going to make a TV show, what would it look like?” referring to the late British director known for epics like Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago.

“We went very widescreen, and I wanted there to something a little old-fashioned about the show,” he said, referencing Doctor Zhivago and other films of the 1960s “that were allowed to be these big, sweeping romantic epics. I’m not ashamed to say that the show lives in that genre.”

Desplat added, “It never feels like the ’80s has been pushed. We don’t have huge hair and fun outfits … for our world, the most important thing was to make it real.”

4. Sadly, Hunnam Didn’t Get to Drive the Motorcycle

(Photo by Apple TV+)

Well, not everything in the show was real.

Fans of star Hunnam’s work on the FX crime drama Sons of Anarchy were intrigued by a publicity still of his Shantaram character riding a motorcycle.

“Insurance has changed a lot since the days of Sons of Anarchy, and I was actually forbidden to ride the bike,” Hunnam admitted after being outed by Desplat. “I was toured around on the back of a bike a lot and acting as though I was riding it, which was somewhat humiliating, but just part of the job.

“In the book, Lin has quite a love affair with his Triumph,” Hunnam continued. “I wouldn’t have picked that bike if I were him. But I understand it was at the time and the place …”

He also stressed that, aside from the occasional motorcycle (fake) riding, “I don’t think there is much comparison between the shows. I hope people don’t expect Sons of Anarchy in India, because unfortunately, we’re not going to deliver that.”

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