Shantaram, an international action-adventure series that just launched on AppleTV+, starts with a simple premise: escape or die.
That’s the dilemma facing Lindsey or “Lin” Ford, played by former Sons of Anarchy outlaw Charlie Hunnam. Fit and lean, the 42-year-old English actor is also a producer on the series.
The date is 1982. Time is running out for Hunnam’s Lin who is getting death threats in an Australian prison. Desperate, he and a nervous mate carry out a daring, daylight escape.
Hunnam, who looks a bit like he could be Daniel Craig’s kid brother, James Bond’s his way out of the slammer and in no time finds his way before a former professor. We learn that Lin once showed tremendous promise but he’s now nothing more than a failed student, son, criminal and addict. “I know what I did; what I have to pay for,” he says before accepting money and a passport and flying off to hide in Bombay, India.
The gritty Bombay scenes are actually shot in Bangkok and Australia. With most scenes darkly lit, the crowded streets serve as a perfect backdrop for Lin to lose himself for a while. At this point, the series feels more “Indiana Jones” than Prison Break, with a dash of “Casablanca” thrown in.
The latter reference came to my mind at least because the dialogue and the characters are very broad and cliché but in a good way. The snappy patter fuels the adventure and, for the most part, the actors are charismatic enough to carry the story.
For example, fresh off the bus, Lin runs smack into Prabhu, who introduces himself as, “the Number One guide in Bombay.” An instant friendship is formed, especially after Lin swaps his aviators for his savvy Indian guide’s cheap plastic sunglasses. Prabhu flatters the newcomer, telling him “Lin” in Bombay means “Great penis.” This will be debunked about four or five introductions later.
Shantaram has its own “Rick’s,” a grungy bar called “Rinaldos” Here in this “unofficial free zone” Lin meets various hustlers and gangsters, including a mystery woman named Karla (French actress Antonia Desplat) and a blond prostitute named Lisa (Electra Kilbey). Things quickly get complicated and even romantic but generally what drives this series is that Lin is a wanted man with a price on his head, yet he keeps putting himself in danger by running towards it, not away from it. Lin’s journey is more about redemption than recovery.
The series is based on a semi-autobiographical international bestseller by Gregory David Roberts. He stirs plenty of action-adventure tropes into his subplots. The Daniel Craig comparison pops up again toward the ends of the opening episode with Hunnam’s Lin cleaning up nicely in a sharp suit in order to pose as an American Embassy official. This Lin does with aplomb, demonstrating other handy if unlikely spy skills such as speaking and understanding the local language.
Why then, if he’s so smart, does he walk through creepy, thug-filled side-streets all alone in the middle of the night? Simply to add jeopardy to the narrative? That would be yes.
Shantaram opened last Friday with three episodes. AppleTV+ will drop the other nine one at a time over consecutive Fridays. Click on the JustWatch AppleTV+ icon below — a new feature here at brioux.tv — to link directly to the series.