Scared shirtless

Published date18 October 2022
Publication titleSignal
SHANTARAM (Apple TV+) is an adaptation of Gregory David Roberts’ weighty 2003 novel of self-discovery. I admit that I was expecting a sort of Eat Pray Love, with added hunk

But it turns out to be a bit of a thriller, with a smattering of morality lessons, though its main moral is that if there’s any chance for star Charlie Hunnam to have a conversation after having taken off his top, or being in the process of taking it off, then yes, he will do it.

It is the early 1980s and Hunnam is Dale, an inmate in an Australian prison that looks very much like an advert for Diesel jeans, or a Calvin Klein campaign — CK: Incarceration. He isn’t a grass, but the rest of the inmates think he is, so he fears for his life. He can’t trust the authorities, for reasons that are drip-fed throughout, so he plots a daring escape. Eventually he winds up in Mumbai, then called Bombay. Along the way, he meets various characters who speak in inspirational quotes, such as: ‘‘You haven’t escaped anything unless you go on to something.’’ It is clearly catching. By the end of the opening episode, Dale, under the alias Lin (the name on his false passport), says: ‘‘I guess I need to be running towards something. Not away from it.’’ I can see it laid out in a lovely font across a picture of a sunrise already.

There’s a touch of The Serpent to this show, particularly its period detail and the way it slinks around the criminal underworld. (I didn’t love The Serpent, but this makes that look like The Sopranos.) In the city’s unofficial ‘‘free zone’’, a bar named Ronaldo’s, all sorts of wheeling and dealing takes place. Dale/Lin falls in with the fast-moving crowd of ‘‘hookers, dealers, gangsters and gamblers’’ who frequent the place, such as Lisa, a sex worker who is ‘‘somehow sad and sexy as hell, all at the same time’’. Sexy and sad? Who says women can’t multitask?

Then the KGB gets involved, and some other criminals, and Dale/Lin ends up on the run from being on the run, allowing him plenty of moments in which he must take his shirt off for a wash, perhaps for...

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