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

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 EOnline.com (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 Collider.com (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!

Press/Interview: Charlie reflects on his most iconic role and the long road to Apple TV+ epic Shantaram

Press/Interview: Charlie reflects on his most iconic role and the long road to Apple TV+ epic Shantaram

RadioTimes.com — Nearly 25 years after his groundbreaking debut in Queer as Folk, Charlie Hunnam’s zeal for stories that seek to understand the human condition hasn’t wavered. He’s here to talk about his new series Shantaram, an Apple TV+ crime epic set in India, which the Sons of Anarchy star has long had his eyes on.

Based on a partly-fictional 936 page novel by Gregory David Roberts that spans continents, heroin addiction and arms smuggling for mujahideen freedom fighters, Shantaram has been a hot Hollywood property since its publication in 2003. Warner Bros splashed out $2m for the film rights, with Johnny Depp set to star as Lin, an Australian bank robber who breaks out of prison and flees to India. But that didn’t materialise, with Hunnam watching from the sidelines as others attempted to bring his dream project to life for two decades.

“It was always clear why this was an impossible task to adapt for film,” he says of the attempts to squeeze the expansive narrative into just two hours. But then streaming disrupted the film and TV industry as we once knew it, with enormous corporations such as Apple (who has funded the first season to the tune of $100m) wanting in on the entertainment boom.

Reflecting on the shifting industry economics that eventually made it possible to make Shantaram, Hunnam says: “It’s such an odyssey and in a film-centric world, I don’t think it was possible. By the time we nabbed the rights, we were in the golden age of television.”

Hunnam describes himself as an actor willing to give himself over entirely to his director and loves nothing more than immersing himself in the inner lives of his characters. “I was possessed by this material,” he says of Lin, who has seen hell but remains hopeful. Due to a COVID-enforced shutdown and a change in showrunner as a result of creative differences between Eric Singer and Apple, Hunnam was given the time and space to interrogate how he wanted to approach the character.

“I had this very powerful conviction that he needed to be a regular guy who had made a mistake that was going to dictate the next decade of his life,” he says. “In the beginning, I wanted him to be stripped down and naked. There were others who wanted to bring elements from later in the novel to earlier in the show, but I rejected that violently because it felt right to me to go on a journey.”

Hunnam remains committed to his vision for Lin but isn’t so sure it will work for everyone: “Whether or not my conviction was right, I don’t know. But it was right for me.” Continue reading Press/Interview: Charlie reflects on his most iconic role and the long road to Apple TV+ epic Shantaram

Press/Interview: Charlie Hunnam wanted to produce ‘Shantaram’ more than he wanted to star in it

Press/Interview: Charlie Hunnam wanted to produce ‘Shantaram’ more than he wanted to star in it

“I didn’t feel necessarily as though this is my role and I’m the only one who can play it, by any means.”

EW.com — Years ago while on vacation in Thailand, Charlie Hunnam read Shantaram, the 2003 international best-selling novel from Australian author Gregory David Roberts. And ever since he finished it, he couldn’t stop thinking about it. He had “devoured” the 900 page book and couldn’t put it down — much to the detriment of the partner he was on vacation with — and knew it deserved to be brought to life onscreen. He felt passionately about producing a TV adaptation of it, but he ultimately had to wait a long time until the rights became available (a film version of Shantaram had been in the works for years from producer Johnny Depp).

“A couple of years later, they admitted defeat with that process — I think because of the length and complexity of the story, it’s really impossible to distill it down to two hours,” Hunnam tells EW. “After many, many noble attempts, Warner Brothers threw in the hat and the rights became available again, so the dream became alive again and here we are.”

Shantaram tells the story of fugitive Lin Ford’s (Hunnam) adventures in 1980s Bombay after escaping prison. Alone in an unfamiliar city, he falls for an enigmatic and intriguing woman while on the run from his past, and soon must choose between freedom or love, and the complications that come with it. Hunnam fell in love with the “magnificently written text” but admits that he didn’t expect — or even want — to play the lead role in the AppleTV+ series, preferring to stay behind the camera in a producer role until he ultimately decided to portray Lin later in the development process.

“I have a very not fully formed but kind of a philosophical view of these things, that ultimately stories want to get told, and they can get told at different times with different people,” Hunnam says. “I didn’t feel necessarily as though this is my role and I’m the only one who can play it, by any means. It’s an amazing role and an amazing story, and there were a lot of people that would have done a splendid job, but I felt very grateful and fortunate that I got to bring it to life.”

The first three episodes of Shantaram premiere Oct. 14 on Apple TV+ before moving to a weekly release through Dec. 16.

Press/Interview: Charlie Hunnam Talks Changing His Hair and Beard for ‘Shantaram’ : ‘I Like the Man Bun!’

Press/Interview: Charlie Hunnam Talks Changing His Hair and Beard for ‘Shantaram’ : ‘I Like the Man Bun!’

The English actor, 42, may have kept the bun style for his new role, but he isn’t a big fan of wearing his long hair down

People.com — Charlie Hunnam may not be the biggest fan of long hair, but his beloved man bun still holds a special place in his heart.

The English actor, 42, opened up to PEOPLE about his most recent look, which came as a result of both the pandemic and as a part of his latest role in Shantaram. As Hunnam explains, he grew his hair out for two years, and decided to film with the look that best represent his character of Lin Ford, an Australian prison escapee who’s living a double life in 1980s Bombay throughout the Apple TV+ series. That look, he says, also required him to do away with his go-to beard.

“The bigger sacrifice for me was shaving my beard because this is my protection and I like looking at myself in the mirror more with the beard,” Hunmann says. “But I had a really strong conviction that Lin had to be sort of naked and stripped down to nothing when he arrived. I didn’t want to hide behind a beard or feel more handsome than I do without a beard. That was a very specific choice that I made.”

While Hunnam has grown accustomed to the man bun look, which sees its TV debut on Oct. 14 to kick off the 12-episode series, he’s also learned a thing or two about styling his long hair. Wearing it down is simply not an option, Hunnam explains.

“I look at Japanese culture, which I’m a big fan of, and I think those dudes, through the way they shape their hair and style their hair, is about the coolest look on the planet,” he says. “So I’m not at all mad at the man bun, but I’m very reluctant ever to wear it down.”

Shantaram, which is based on Gregory David Roberts’ international bestseller, allowed the actor to film in India, Thailand and Australia during the height of the pandemic. In the series, the Sons of Anarchy alum’s latest character runs a local health clinic while he’s in cahoots with the mafia in Bombay.

When it comes to his character, there’s not much more than hair styles that connects the two. Hunnam tells PEOPLE that he’s able to live out most of his “fantasies and desire for life” through his acting work, but his real life doesn’t see as much adventure as that of the fictional character of Lin.

“I’m much less adventurous in my regular life,” he says. “I spend about 10 months of the year on the road working, so when I’m not working, I tend to just want to be home with my lady.” His “lady,” Morgana McNelis, has been with him for over 15 years and Hunnam considers himself already married to her. The jewelry designer keeps a relatively low profile, and bought a ranch in California with her partner back in 2013.

Arriving this week, Shantaram is written and executive produced by showrunner Steve Lightfoot. Apple TV+ won the rights to adapt the novel in a 2018 bidding war. In the series Hunnam’s character of Lin is “committed to living under the radar and alone — a lifestyle that allows him to hold onto his freedom,” a description of the series reads. He eventually meets a woman named Karla, played by Antonia Desplat, and begins to weigh love and freedom.

“The book is a very rich exploration of the nature of faith, belief and how that informs us. I think within that, there’s a deep exploration of duality within the human condition of light and dark and how we navigate or surrender to one at the expense of the other,” Hunnam says. “That was the central theme that I was most excited to explore in Shantaram — this bigger idea percolating through the whole thing: what does all of this mean?”

Press/Interview: Charlie Hunnam on Shantaram Illness, “Destroying” Back for Rebel Moon

Press/Interview: Charlie Hunnam on Shantaram Illness, “Destroying” Back for Rebel Moon

HollywoodReporter.com — “I feel good,” Charlie Hunnam said with a smile (and an asterisk) upon hitting the red carpet Monday night outside Westwood’s Bruin Theater, host of the world premiere of his new Apple TV+ series Shantaram.

The asterisk is necessary because Hunnam’s emotional state is understandably layered, especially on the eve of this long-gestating series based on Gregory David Robert’s 2003 blockbuster novel finally being seen by the world. Shantaram casts Hunnam as the lead, Lin Ford, an on-the-run fugitive who escapes to Bombay, India, where he gets lost among the city’s vibrant characters in the often mysterious and seedy underbelly.

“When I wrap and the job’s over, I’ve already gone through the highs and the lows,” Hunnam explained to The Hollywood Reporter about the series, produced for the streamer by Paramount Television Studios and Anonymous Content’s AC Studios. “I’ve already judged it on what we did well and what we didn’t do well so it’s sort of surreal to finally be here because I’ve been so deep in this for so long that I don’t know how to feel. I actually feel numb tonight, maybe somewhat unemotional.”

He was quick to clarify: “I am excited for the world to see it but after seven years, I suppose I’m saying that it’s more personal to me than sharing it with the outside world and I suppose it all hasn’t really sunk in yet.”

He has a few more days to process. Shantaram will make its global debut on Apple TV+ with the drop of the first three episodes of its 12-episode first season on Oct. 14. A new episode will then roll out weekly through Dec. 16. Steve Lightfoot leads the charge as co-creator, writer and executive producer alongside executive producers Nicole Clemens, Andrea Barron, Justin Kurzel and the late Steve Golin. Eric Warren Singer, who was previously attached as creator and showrunner before Lightfoot took over, also receives an executive producer credit.

A novel-length text would be required to detail the backstory of bringing Shantaram to the screen. Over the years, everyone from Johnny Depp and Joel Edgerton to filmmakers Peter Weir and Mira Nair were attached for a feature film version. Then, in 2018, Paramount and Anonymous snapped up adaptation rights once they became available, setting Singer and director Justin Kurzel to spearhead the series starring Hunnam. However, after two episodes were shot, the show went on hiatus and Singer was replaced by Lightfoot in a complete creative overhaul.

Hunnam says the richness of Roberts’ storytelling has made it such a hot commodity. “It’s an extraordinary journey of a man who goes through darkness to find light, and there’s action, adventure, romance and the exciting foreign nature of the environments,” says the actor, who hasn’t starred in a TV series since Sons of Anarchy. “All of the things [Shantaram] surfaced are the same things that I found compelling to investigate in my own life. When I first read this book, I was thinking a huge amount about God, about philosophy and psychology and about my experience in the world. These are all subjects that Greg writes about and he really swings for the fences. He not only tasked himself with telling an extraordinary story and delivering compelling drama as the story goes along, but he also tasked himself with figuring out the meaning of life through this text, you know? What is the nature of God? If God does exist, what is God?”
Continue reading Press/Interview: Charlie Hunnam on Shantaram Illness, “Destroying” Back for Rebel Moon