Episode 1 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 2 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 3 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 4 -| Review Score – 3/5
Episode 5 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 6 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 7 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 8 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 9 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 10 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 11 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 12 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Finally, Shantaram’s maiden voyage has ended and it has yielded mixed results. Personally, there is more to like about this than to quibble about. First-class production values see a bustling revival of yesteryear Bombay. The presence of Charlie Hunnam as the charming lead provides acting prowess and injects emotion into the story.
Like a game of chess, the story constantly unfolds to keep things interesting. But more often than not, Shantaram’s covenants about Lin and his morality drag it back to mediocrity.
The story originates in the works of Gregory Roberts. In fact, the books are based on autobiographical accounts. It is quite a stretch to think that all of what happens to Lin actually happened in real life; there are of course some creative liberties taken. Although he has himself resisted that label, from the top, there are arcs to converge. A blend of reality and fiction always has ample space for exposition. These narratives informed by experience needn’t necessarily be true for them to mean something. Lin Ford’s tumultuous entry into the life and world of Bombay is in the same category.
One of the reasons why the novel was cited and hailed by critics as a “gentle giant” was for its vivid portrayal of Bombay’s life. Old video records of the city do not do justice to how culturally rich and accepting it was to outsiders. It was a boiling potpourri of identities and shades of human nature, all bound by the commonality of its well-established rules.
Eric Warren Singer and Steve Lightfoot pretty much focus on that aspect of their storytelling for the first part. With so much time on their hands, they do not take the introduction to the city and its people lightly.
We go deep into the heart of Bombay – the street dwellers, ragged slums with too many people, and a relentless criminal underworld organized like clockwork. Every detail in the recreation will spill your nostalgic memories of growing up there or even dreaming to make your dreams come true. Although the place has now been revamped with high skyline towers and modern infrastructure, the soul remains intact. Lightfoot and Singer tap into that richness and cultivate it in their storytelling to great effect.
Shantaram’s universe is defined by a nexus of crime, police, and politicians, all grabbing at their share of the pie. There are glimpses of classics like Ardh Satya and Shool in how Shantaram, goes about that nexus. It is an undeniable truth of Bombay and Shantaram embraces it unconditionally. Charlie Hunnam’s heroic Lin is portrayed like a messiah to the people of Sagar Wada. But the makers are mindful of not overreaching and making him an infallible man. His description falls in the gray area that people often ignore and resent.
He is the narrator of the story but a seemingly powerless figure. Criminal overlords way above him in the food chain like Khaderbhai and Walidbhai dictate the pace of events. He innocuously gets dragged into their mess but his bravery is admirable, albeit too whitewashed. Lin is too morally soft in some areas, making it a big point of contention. Yet, Shantaram proposes an indelible scheme that fizzles out midway through the season.
One of the easiest criticisms though is the length of the season. Almost no other big budget streaming original has come close to a double-digit mark in terms of the number of episodes in recent times. Perhaps tightening up the narrative would have given Singer and Lightfoot some control over their storytelling. The necessary urgency and directness are missing for the first half of the season. The trade-off for character development and exposition takes a bit of sting out of Shantaram’s punches. While they land in the sweet spot post-episode 6, the momentum is somewhat derailed.
The problem with the lack of excitement stems from the treatment of the plot. There appears to be some confusion in the minds of makers on how to optimize the potential of their universe. That ends up making some scenes and interactions between characters feel very repetitive and redundant. Shubham Saraf is another standout with Hunnam, acting-wise. Other members of the ensemble are not given the same attention to become more than just the supporting cast in season 1.
Shantaram is an enjoyable ride and will endear viewers who subscribe to a vanilla hero who can do no wrong. It has its highs and lows but one thing that constantly keeps you glued to the screen is Charlie Hunnam’s charismatic central performance.
Verdict - 6.5/10