What is Shantaram, Who is Gregory David Roberts and Why It Took 7 Years to be Adapted to Screen

With Shantaram’s first season currently airing on AppleTV+ you may have found yourself curious about the origin of the show and the book it’s based off of.

Who is Gregory?

The book Shantaram was written by Gregory David Roberts who was born in Melbourne, Australia. Sentenced to nineteen years in prison for a series of armed robberies, he escaped and spent ten of his fugitive years in Bombay—where he established a free medical clinic for slum-dwellers, and worked as a counterfeiter, smuggler, gunrunner, and street soldier for a branch of the Bombay mafia. Recaptured, he served out his sentence, and established a successful multimedia company upon his release. Roberts is a now full-time writer and lives in Bombay.

Fascinating, right? What a life he has lived and more so, what stories he must be able to tell.

The 7 Year Journey

Now, you must be wondering: How did it get adapted to television? Well, it was a 7-year long journey as Charlie tells it. Here are some quotes of Charlie sharing his thoughts and experience behind what it took to finally get Shantaram on our television screens.

“Seven years ago, I read Shantaram and it became an obsession for me to be part of the creative team that would bring this adaptation to screen,” he revealed. “Luckily, seven years later, that tenacity has paid off and I’m the guy that got to play Lin.”

— Via (October 14th, 2022)

Collider: Charlie, as I understand it, this first came your way in the form of the book and it hadn’t gone into development as a TV series yet. How many years ago was that, and what was it about the story that really kept you following the project over the years, instead of just giving up on it?

CHARLIE: So, I was given the book about seven years ago and fell madly in love with it, as a novel. It’s a pretty spectacular piece of writing, very clearly lead-begging to be adapted to the screen. The problem was that it was owned by Warner Bros. for many years. At the time, it was a film-centric industry, so for many, many years, they labored to try to whittle the story down to a two-hour narrative, which I think was just impossible to do. So me, coming from television when I read the book, I was immediately thinking about it long-form, thinking you tell a story over 30, 40, or 50 hours.

The guy who gave it to me, Eric [Warren Singer], was one of our first producers, who’s still a producer on it. We just went on a journey of basically stalking Warner Bros. to see when the rights would became available. We tried to secure them ourselves, were unsuccessful, and then found out who was successful in securing them, and tried to convince them to hire us. That was the way it went.

The reason I wanted to do the project, honestly, is that it’s just an incredible odyssey of adventure, love, betrayal, criminality, gods, and everything in between. The adventure of it and the uniqueness of the environment, all of that, felt fresh and exciting to me. But then, most of all, it was just the themes. Gregory David Roberts, who’s the author of the novel, is an exceptionally bright thinker. The way he explores theology, philosophy and psychology in this book, gave us some really juicy themes to play with, if we could bring it to screen.

Collider: Charlie, you’ve done a variety of films since Sons of Anarchy came to an end, but this is the first TV series that you’ve led since then. Had you been hesitant about doing another TV series? Was it just about finding a character that you wanted to play for a longer period of time?

CHARLIE: It was this. I was obsessed with this, and it’s taken seven years, which is basically the amount of time that I’ve been free from my contract for Sons of Anarchy. In the moments where I lost faith in this actually happening, and there were a few of those moments, I considered some other TV opportunities because I was actually very eager to get back to TV. I was proactively looking for an opportunity to get back into television. But this was the one I just always came back to. There were some things that I got really close on, that have ended up being great, but I just held the line and said, “This is the one that I really wanna do the most.” Thankfully, Apple was game for it.

— Via (October 14th, 2022)

Shantaram: The Book

“It took me a long time and most of the world to learn what I know about love and fate and the choices we make, but the heart of it came to me in an instant, while I was chained to a wall and being tortured.”

An escaped convict with a false passport, Lin flees maximum security prison in Australia for the teeming streets of Bombay, where he can disappear. Accompanied by his guide and faithful friend, Prabaker, the two enter the city’s hidden society of beggars and gangsters, prostitutes and holy men, soldiers and actors, and Indians and exiles from other countries, who seek in this remarkable place what they cannot find elsewhere.

As a hunted man without a home, family, or identity, Lin searches for love and meaning while running a clinic in one of the city’s poorest slums, and serving his apprenticeship in the dark arts of the Bombay mafia. The search leads him to war, prison torture, murder, and a series of enigmatic and bloody betrayals. The keys to unlock the mysteries and intrigues that bind Lin are held by two people. The first is Khader Khan: mafia godfather, criminal-philosopher-saint, and mentor to Lin in the underworld of the Golden City. The second is Karla: elusive, dangerous, and beautiful, whose passions are driven by secrets that torment her and yet give her a terrible power.

Burning slums and five-star hotels, romantic love and prison agonies, criminal wars and Bollywood films, spiritual gurus and mujaheddin guerrillas—this huge novel has the world of human experience in its reach, and a passionate love for India at its heart.

You can purchase your very own copy of the book from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and many other retailers by visiting Macmillan Publishers and don’t miss Shantaram which is exclusively streaming on AppleTV+ now!