Apple's 'Shantaram' Series Looking to Tap Into India's Upcoming Production Incentives Scheme (Exclusive)

Charlie Hunnam-Getty-H 2019
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The Charlie Hunnam-starring adaptation of Gregory David Roberts' best-selling novel is the streamer's first international production, co-produced with Paramount Television and Anonymous Content, and is currently filming in the country.

Apple TV+'s upcoming series Shantaram, based on the best-selling book by Gregory David Roberts and currently filming in India, is seeking to be one of the first major foreign productions to tap into the country's impending film incentives scheme.

The Indian government has yet to officially unveil its scheme that will offer a 30 percent tax break on projects shot in the country, capped at $300,000 (20 million rupees) per production, but producers behind the mob drama, which stars Charlie Hunnam, are keen to be considered for the policy.

Shantaram's executive producer Richard Sharkey, who also addressed a panel at Goa's Film Bazaar, told The Hollywood Reporter that he sincerely hoped his production would be "eligible for the incentives." Sharkey urged the government to bring in the scheme explaining that incentives "are a proven tool for success in investment — for every dollar that is invested in a country, it is generating five, 10 or 13 times or sometimes even more in economic activity, which benefits communities, governments and tax returns."

An announcement on the production incentives scheme could be expected by March when the Indian government plans to host a major economic summit "as envisioned by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which will be on the lines of Davos and cover various business verticals, including media and entertainment," Producers Guild of India CEO Kulmeet Makkar tells THR. "If the summit goes ahead, it will attract various foreign delegates, including some members of the Producers Guild of America with whom PGI recently signed a memorandum of understanding."

PGA co-chair, international committee, Kayvan Mashayekh, who plans to attend the proposed summit, says that the memorandum with PGI aims to build a "spirit of collaboration and cooperation to find a common denominator and create a superhighway between the U.S. and Indian industries."

A fictionalized account of David Roberts’ life, Shantaram tells the story of Lin, a one-time bank robber and heroin addict who escaped from Melbourne’s infamous maximum security Pentridge Prison. His life on the run took him to Germany and the slums of Mumbai, where he set up a medical clinic as a way of giving back to the community, followed by his involvement with freedom fighters against the Russians in Afghanistan. 

Shantaram is currently filming in the central Indian town of Bhopal and will also shoot in Mumbai "The story essentially takes place in Mumbai, but Bhopal is standing in for the [period] look [as the story is set in the eighties]," says Sharkey, adding, "Bhopal has locations with incredible history. It's a wonderful place."

Sharkey also points out that a majority of the shoot will take place in India where the story is largely set, adding, "Since a small portion also takes place in Melbourne, it seemed natural to use that as a secondary base."

The India shoot, which began just over a week ago, is expected to go on until the onset of the monsoons around June next year. And given the potential of the show's returning seasons, further shoots in the country can also be expected.

Sharkey has been a producer on Netflix's Marco Polo, which filmed in Malaysia, and location manager on such blockbusters as The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and Star Wars: Episode One – The Phantom Menace in addition to James Bond titles Goldeneye and The World is Not Enough, among others.

Shantaram marks the first time Sharkey is filming in India, for which he interacted with the government's Film Facilitation Office. Established in 2015 as a unit of the National Film Development Corporation, FFO provides a single window clearance system for foreign productions in terms of obtaining permissions from various departments and local bodies in addition to providing other services.

"India is ready for international filmmaking and convincing studios of that has been the FFO's main success," says Sharkey adding, "Now that we are here, we are very much in the hands of our local producers [India Take One, which has handled several shoots such as Slumdog Millionaire and Lion] who are guiding us through the system."

Shantaram's Australian shoot sees the government providing $5 million (AUS$7.4 million) through its location-incentive program, with the Victorian government also supporting via Film Victoria’s Production Incentive Attraction Fund.

The production is expected to attract more than $37 million in investment, employ around 330 cast and crew and use the services of more than 500 local businesses, according to Australian Communications and Arts Minister Paul Fletcher.

Without giving figures for the India shoot, Sharkey says that the production is involving up to 700 people "and maybe only 50 are from overseas. That gives you an idea of the economic impact that a show like this will have."

Shantaram was previously set up as a feature film, with Johnny Depp set to produce and Joel Edgerton attached to star. Snowtown and Macbeth helmer Justin Kurzel will direct the first two and final two episodes of the 10-episode epic, which is also filming in Australia.

The novel has been published in 39 languages in 42 territories worldwide and has sold more than 6 million copies. After Paramount Television and Anonymous Content landed TV rights to the title in 2018, Apple set it up as its first international production. As part of the deal, Paramount and Anonymous also acquired rights to Roberts' follow-up novel, The Mountain Shadow.