Joel Edgerton to Replace Johnny Depp in ‘Shantaram’

Joel Edgerton

It’s been a good week for projects stuck in development hell. Yesterday, James Gray’s The Lost City of Z got a new lease on life as Benedict Cumberbatch entered talks to star. Today, the even longer-gestating Shantaram looks like it could spring back to life, with Joel Edgerton in the lead role.

Based on the novel by Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram centers on an escaped Australian convict named Lin who moves to Bombay and reinvents himself as a doctor. He eventually gets involved with the local mafia, and uses the dark skills he develops with them in the guerilla war against invading Russians in Afghanistan. Even more remarkable than the plotline itself is the fact that it’s based on Roberts’ own life. Hit the jump for more details on the project.

Warner Bros. first picked up the rights to Roberts’ book back in 2004, at the cost of $2 million. Johnny Depp was set to play Lin early on, but the 2007-2008 WGA strike derailed the project and it’s made little progress since then. Depp remains on board as a producer, however, and in fact it was he who courted Edgerton for the lead.

Depp’s Infinitum Nihil partner Christi Dembrowski and GK Films’ Graham King are also producing. At the point when Depp was attached to star, Peter Weir was on board to direct. However, he’s since departed and the search for a new director is underway.

Edgerton was last seen in Zero Dark Thirty and The Great Gatsby. More recently, he wrapped the Natalie Portman-produced Western Jane Got a Gun. He should be a perfect fit for the tough-but-tender hero, especially as Edgerton, like the character, is Australian.

Here’s the official synopsis for the book, via Amazon:

“It took me a long time and most of the world to learn what I know about love and fate and the choices we make, but the heart of it came to me in an instant, while I was chained to a wall and being tortured.”

So begins this epic, mesmerizing first novel set in the underworld of contemporary Bombay. Shantaram is narrated by Lin, an escaped convict with a false passport who flees maximum security prison in Australia for the teeming streets of a city where he can disappear.

Accompanied by his guide and faithful friend, Prabaker, the two enter Bombay’s hidden society of beggars and gangsters, prostitutes and holy men, soldiers and actors, and Indians and exiles from other countries, who seek in this remarkable place what they cannot find elsewhere.

As a hunted man without a home, family, or identity, Lin searches for love and meaning while running a clinic in one of the city’s poorest slums, and serving his apprenticeship in the dark arts of the Bombay mafia. The search leads him to war, prison torture, murder, and a series of enigmatic and bloody betrayals. The keys to unlock the mysteries and intrigues that bind Lin are held by two people. The first is Khader Khan: mafia godfather, criminal-philosopher-saint, and mentor to Lin in the underworld of the Golden City. The second is Karla: elusive, dangerous, and beautiful, whose passions are driven by secrets that torment her and yet give her a terrible power.

Burning slums and five-star hotels, romantic love and prison agonies, criminal wars and Bollywood films, spiritual gurus and mujaheddin guerrillas—this huge novel has the world of human experience in its reach, and a passionate love for India at its heart. Based on the life of the author, it is by any measure the debut of an extraordinary voice in literature.

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