Shubham Saraf and Elektra Kilbey on ‘Shantaram’ and the magic of recreating 1980s Bombay

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Actors Shubham Saraf and Elektra Kilbey speak about bringing to life the television adaptation of Gregory David Roberts’ bestselling novel

Actors Shubham Saraf and Elektra Kilbey speak about bringing to life the television adaptation of Gregory David Roberts’ bestselling novel

Finally, Apple’s television adaptation of Shantaram, based on the internationally bestselling 2003 novel by Gregory David Roberts, has arrived.

Following a fugitive from Australia named Lin Ford (played by Charlie Hunnam) looking to get lost in the madness of 1980s Bombay, the series, written and produced by Steven Lightfoot, charts 12 episodes as he comes across as a gamut of characters. Among the people he meets are the enterprising street guide, Prabhu (Shubham Saraf) and Lisa Carter (Elektra Kilbey), an American who comes to India for a spiritual awakening but ends up an addict.

Shubham Saraf is best known for his work in projects such as the thriller series Bodyguard, and the adaptation of Vikram Seth’s novel A Suitable Boy. An accomplished stage actor, in 2022, he also garnered praise for his portrayal of Nathuram Godse in The Father and the Assassin at the National Theatre.

Shubham Saraf as Prabhu in the show

Shubham Saraf as Prabhu in the show

Is he on the cusp of breaking out as a star now, with Bollywood also on the horizon?

Shubham Saraf says, “Well, it’s uncharted territory for me, as I’m a bit of an intersectional identity act, being both British and Indian. I’ve done a lot of work in theatre and film in England and the US; and have been noticed in India for shows like A Suitable Boy. I’m also part of the Bollywood remake of the 2011 Korean action thriller Blind, which also stars Sonam Kapoor. So let’s see how it goes,” he smiles.

Having grown up watching Hindi cinema, Shubham, who was in Mumbai recently, says that Indian stories are “in his blood” and he’s just got to figure out the right ones to tell. “I love Bombay/ Mumbai because of how impossible the city is; it shouldn’t work, but it just does. And the reason it works is because of the pyaar! The love all around somehow keeps the city ticking.”

For Shantaram, the actor was witness to 1980s Bombay being recreated in Bangkok, where the team was shooting due to pandemic restrictions. “Bombay is such an iconic place, and the scale of the whole set in Thailand was quite jaw-dropping. We had hundreds of extras, cars, buses and bikes all in Bangkok’s central Chinatown to make it look just like Colaba.”

(ONLINE) “I still remember the first scene when Lin, played by Charlie, gets off the bus for the first time and encounters my character Prabhu as their journey begins together. It really was overwhelming to see the amazing dedication of the entire team pull this off,” Shubham recalls.

Elektra Kilbey as Lisa Carter in ‘Shantaram’

Elektra Kilbey as Lisa Carter in ‘Shantaram’

Filming for Shantaram was an even more surreal experience for Elektra Kilbey, the Swedish-Australian artist, actress and songwriter. Having made her feature film debut in the independent film Odd Man Rush, Elektra has since balanced her film and music career, also forming a band Say Lou Lou with her twin sister Anna Miranda. The duo, in fact, are set to release a new EP in the beginning of November. “Once I read Shantaram, I immediately traveled to Mumbai; the book made me want to visit the city immediately. Roberts’ descriptions were so accurate; from the vibrant energy and wisdom in the air to the unique culture and even the crushing of bodies on the roads!” she exclaims. 

Elektra’s character of Lisa Carter eventually makes her way into Bollywood in the novel, and the singer-actor is hoping she gets to explore the many facets to her role eventually. “Though I haven’t gone in-depth into researching on Bollywood, of course I’m aware of it and my character’s connections with the industry; it sounds as fascinating as could be.”

Elektra Kilbey

Elektra Kilbey

She is also conscious of the fact that a book-to-television adaptation brings up heated debates from fans of the novel: “Our motive always is to do the pages justice, honour the character, and bring out sides and vulnerabilities to the role that fans may not have got from Lin’s perspective while reading the book.”

Shantaram is currently streaming on Apple TV+ with weekly episodes

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