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Exclusive: Charlie Hunnam On ‘Shantaram’, Visiting India & More

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Puja Talwar

The wait is finally over. The much-awaited adaptation of Gregory David Roberts’ 2003 bestselling novel Shantaram is finally here.

Sons Of Anarchy actor Charlie Hunnam stars as Lin Ford, a fugitive on the run who arrives in Bombay, India in the 1980s from Australia under a fake identity in this Apple TV+ original series.

Hunnam admits being drawn to the book and its story from the moment he read it seven years ago. Charting Lin’s journey, as he reconciles with his dark past and embraces a new life, Hunnam admits being familiar with the source material years before the filming began.

“I had a specific sense who I thought Lin was and I could really understand and relate psychologically to the struggle, that’s why I feel he is brilliant as an author because its deeply related to most humans. It’s him trying to figure out who he is and what will make his life be meaningful and how to reconcile the dark and light of his soul,” says the actor.

From the book to the screens, Shantaram has had its own journey. Initially to be adapted by filmmaker Mira Nair and co-produced by actor Johnny Depp, who was to play the lead, the project was later shelved due to several logistical issues.

Charlie Hunnam©Getty Images

Producer Simon Lightfoot, who has also co-written the screenplay, says the author allowed the team complete freedom for its on screen adaptation. “The book was my lone star, it moved so many people and though we may have had to change the plot here and there, we kept the tone and the humanity and humour of the book intact,” says Lightfoot.

The French Dispatch actor Antonia Desplat plays the mysterious Karla, a business woman who shares a complicated relationship with Lin. Actor and musician Elektra Kilbey plays Lisa, a sex worker and an addict who is looked after by Karla. The actors unanimously believe that the female characters in the book own their space and have agency.

Charlie Hunnam©Getty Images

“As a foreigner, roles like these don’t come very often and I am a foreigner living in a foreign land so I really related to the expat experience. Also the fact that she is constantly in search of her identity and was very intrigued by the enigma that she represents, and wanted to make her as complex and as human as possible,” says Desplat.

Recreating India of the 1980s could have been a daunting task especially since production had to move to Bangkok due to the pandemic, but despite everything, the set designs are impressive. Hunnam even admits to taking a trip to Mumbai with his fiancée to see India on his own terms. “To have my own adventure and let India show what it wanted to show us. We travelled across from Rishikesh To Varanasi. I hope to spend a lot of time in the future,” says Hunnam, who even picked up some Hindi and Marathi.

His co-stars Desplat and Kilbey acquainted themselves with the ‘Bombay’ in Roberts’ novel. “We went to Leopold’s Cafe, had lunch at the Taj and walked around Colaba. We walked for hours around Mumbai to get a feel of being foreigners in Mumbai, see how people interact with us,” says Desplat.

Shantaram will premiere on Apple TV+ from October 14.