Fast Times in 80s Bombay

Fast Times in 80s Bombay

Gregory David Roberts’ bestselling novel reaches TV screens after twenty years of Hollywood wrangling. Shantaram follows an escaped Australian bank robber on a variety of adventures in early 80s Bombay. A man-bun sporting Charlie Hunnam stars as a protagonist who can’t help but get involved with a group of shady characters. The initial episodes vividly capture life in the teeming Indian slums. But a meandering narrative with multiple storylines fails to come together in a convincing way. There are also gaps missing to bridge the fleeting approach. This is particularly evident in the rushed premiere.


In 1982 Victoria, Australia, Dale Conti (Hunnam) is serving a lengthy prison sentence at Pentridge Prison. A former paramedic turned bank robber and drug addict, he’s severely beaten by the guards and a police detective (David Field). They want information he’s reluctant to give. Dale’s a dead man if he doesn’t talk. He watches construction workers and records their movements. Then makes a daring rooftop prison break in broad daylight.

Dale arrives in Bombay, India, as a New Zealander, Lindsay Ford. He sweats nervously as immigration agents check his false passport. He’s bombarded outside the airport by hustlers. Prabhu (Shubham Saraf) offers to be his guide for 100 rupees. He also recommends shortening his name to “Lin”, which means penis in Hindi. Prabhu takes Lin to a cheap hotel filled with tourist druggies. Lin relishes freedom in the chaotic environment.

He makes his way to Reynaldo’s after a chance meeting with the beautiful Karla (Antonia Desplat). She introduces him to Lisa (Elektra Kilbey), a heroin-addicted prostitute, and Didier (Vincent Perez), a talkative middle-man. Reynaldo’s is a hub for criminal dealings with foreigners. The one rule, shake hands here, but actual transactions are done on the street. Club-wielding authorities give the bar a wide berth.

Lin decides to visit Prabhu’s village after a disturbing encounter. He’s visited by Karla with a request for help. Lisa has been sold by her Italian pimps to the dangerous Madame Zhou (Gabrielle Scharnitzky). She’s being held at a brothel called the Palace. Karla wants Lin to impersonate an American diplomat. Lin, who’s falling hard for Karla, must choose to keep running or help his new friends.

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The Plot Gets Rolling Quickly

The premiere gets the plot rolling quickly. Lin is out of Australia and roaming Bombay in minutes. There’s no explanation of how he left the country and acquired the fake passport. He’s also got money to spend shuffling around the slums. Granted, paying Prabhu 100 rupees is a pittance, but the show has him flush with cash. This leap of logic continues as Lin gets around for bad or worse.

The supporting characters are too easily enchanted by Lin. Hunnam is a good-looking guy who’s often bare-chested, but the wheelers and dealers adopt him in a flash. A scene of him doing various accents is portrayed as the ice-breaker. That’s hard to believe in a place where everyone is playing each other. Lin falls hard for Karla. Her motives are complex and become known as the overall plot thickens.

Directors Justin Kurzel and Bharat Nalluri succeed in creating a hectic environment. 80s Bombay looks authentic, but I had issues with the casual familiarity of the characters. Lin trusts blindly for an international fugitive. We’re meant to believe his good nature. The same goes for Prabhu, who latches on fast as Lin’s Indian bestie. Shantaram has me slightly over the fence after the first three episodes. There are problems, but entertaining enough to warrant continued viewing.

Shantaram is a production of Anonymous Content and Paramount Television Studios. The first three episodes premiere on October 14th on Apple TV+.