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Shantaram - The Three Nos, Down and Out, & Strange Bedfellows

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  Shantaram premiered on Apple+ on October 14 and dropped the first three episodes. “The Three Nos” and “Down and Out” were written by showrunners Eric Warren Singer (American Hustle, Top Gun: Maverick) and Steve Lightfoot (Hannibal, The Punisher). The two were joined by David Manson (Ozark, Bloodline, New Amsterdam)  in the writers’ room for “Strange Bedfellows.” All three of the episodes were directed by Bharat Nalluri, whose other credits include Life on Mars, Torchwood, MI-5, and The Orchard. There’s no doubt that there is plenty of talent behind the cameras – though Singer left the project and there were many delays due to typhoon season in India and then covid. 

When I first saw a trailer – with Charlie Hunnam (Lin Ford) on a motorcycle zipping through Bombay – I thought, well they are just cashing in on Sons of Anarchy. I was quickly won over, however, as the show is so much more than that! There is the wonderful backdrop of India – and the rich variety of her people, and there is a terrific cast of characters. Hunnam is excellent in the series, delivering a performance that feels very little like Jax Teller, even though the two characters have much in common. Hunnam gets to use his own accent for one thing, and there is a terrific scene in “The Three Nos” during which Lin puts on an American accent – and imitates Clint Eastwood from Dirty Harry. He’s so good he’s told by the others that he should be an actor! LOL! It’s a nice little easter egg. 

The first episode opens with a very daring prison break, but we only get the story of how he ended up there in short flashbacks scattered throughout the episodes. The action goes from running from the prison – waiting to hear the gunshots – to him on a plane with a New Zealand passport and a new name disembarking in India. The series is based on a novel that is based on the real life of the author – Gregory David Roberts. 

The first person Lin meets is Prabu (Shubham Saraf) as he is mobbed as he gets off the bus in Bombay. Prabu offers to be his guide and get him set up in a hotel. I’ve been to India many times, and every scene with Prabu brought back wonderful memories of the people. Ambitious to leave poverty behind, but kind and soft spoken – even if persistent. I loved the scene in which Lin gives Prabu his very expensive sunglasses in exchange for Prabu’s cheap plastic ones. Prabu may have wanted the nicer glasses but in the end, he resists taking them until Lin insists.In this context, if you want to buy sunglasses always look for the polarized ones.  

Lin walks the city when not being shown about by Prabu – who, after all, has to make a living off more than one seemingly rich tourist. Lin wanders into Reynaldo’s bar – where deals are born but not consummated, and quickly ends up surrounded by the shadier side of Bombay. He meets Lisa (Elektra Kilbey) – a prostitute – and Karla (Antonia Desplat) – whose business is more mysterious. By the end of the first episode, Karla has dragged Lin into her shady deals. She convinces him to help get Lisa out of Madame Zhou’s (Gabrielle Scharnitzky) brothel where Lisa’s pimps have left her, but telling him that Lisa is in a lot of danger. She’s picked him to play an American diplomat because he can fake the accent. 

Lin does a very good job of intimidating Zhou and gets Lisa out. It turns out that Karla wanted Lisa in there to spy on a government official who is interfering with one of Karla’s deals. Zhou has the last word, however, and the episode ends with Lin being mugged and having all of his money taken. We finally learn that he’d gone from prison to collect the money from the bank robbery that got him in jail to begin with. 

Prabu is luckily at Lin’s hotel, checking in more guests, when Lin arrives back with a police officer. He’s lost his passport along with his money. Prabu knows that the cop is going to want a bribe – and with no money left, Lin flees to the make-shift hut city – Sagar Wada – where Prabu lives in. Prabu gives him food and a place to stay. They had been planning to leave the city to go visit Prabu’s village the next day, but now Lin has to find a way to get more money – and a new passport – with no option of going to any authorities.  

      He tries getting more money his heist partner Charlie (Aaron Glenane) but Charlie tells him their done. He goes to Karla, and she’s too busy to help too. Lin stays with Lisa who is staying with Karla, who got her high on heroine when they got back there from the brothel. Lin, who has also been addicted to heroine – which is why he need to rob a bank – helps her try to get clean. It seems way too easy as he seems to get her over it in an afternoon…

Karla, meanwhile, has gone to see one of the senior mob bosses of Bombay - Khader Khan (Alexander Siddig). Karla is chasing her own demons – a murdered lover. She tells Khan about what happened in the brothel and by the end of the episode, he murders the government official with his own hands. Khan also goes to Zhou and threatens her. In return, she retaliates by escalating her own illegal activities. In the end, Karla relents and gives Lin $1000 – and tells him to leave the city as he planned to. The end of the second episode sees him attacked again, this time back at, Sagar Wada, and the ensuing fight sets fire to the slums. 

Lin is about to flee the fire but his conscience won’t let him. He stays to fight the fire and to help care for those hurt. When Lakshmi (Deepka Ratra) is seriously wounded, Lin insists on trying to get her to the hospital but it is hopeless. The next day, however, there is a long line up of people waiting to see the “doctor.” This was one of Prabu’s suggestions for how to make money. Lin swears he won’t do it, but Prabu and his guilty conscience convince him. He gives all the money from Karla to get more supplies. There’s also a nice little sub-plot about Prabu and his love interest…  

      By the end of the episode, Khan has picked Lin up and taken him for a ride. Khan demonstrates that he is benevolent – by promising to help a guy with his landlord. He also takes Lin to a club to listen to music and drink and to talk philosophy. Karla is there working on her deal and is not happy to see Lin with Khan…

A lot happened in these first three episodes! I’m excited to see how the intrigue is going to play out. So far, there has been a really good mix of action and exposition. There are already plenty of characters on the board, so I’m interested to see how all the pieces are going to fit together! Hunnam and Saraf have terrific chemistry and Siddig is the ultimate understated bad guy. This story was originally supposed to be a movie (about two decades ago), and I have no idea how anyone could have dont it justice! What did you think of the episodes so far? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!


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