Knife fights and personal transformation

I’m officially excited. My personal book of the year, Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts, is about to be made into a movie. Hang on a minute—just how many books have I read in the last year?

Johnny DeppThe answer to that is besides the point, as is the fact that Shantaram is some four years old now, not to mention approximately twenty years in the writing. What matter accuracy in the world of adaptation to screen?

For those unfortunate enough not have read this epic of knife fighting and personal transformation, the following over the top, self-penned book review would be a good place to start, although page number one of Shantaram, from which the following is taken, would be even better:

“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.”

The film rights to the novel were brought by actor and embodiment of cool Johnny Depp, who narrowly beat real life Australian hard-man and wanna-be criminal Russell Crowe (he’s a Kiwi actually) in a bidding war for the story of an Australia prison escapee who found redemption in the heart of India.

Roberts relates the following about meeting Depp for the first time after the movie rights were secured:

After making the successful bid for the movie rights to Shantaram, Johnny Depp invited me to visit him in London. Took me a nanosecond, yaar, to pack a grip and pick up the First Class ticket he left for me at the British Airways desk in Melbourne. A limo picked me up at Heathrow and dropped me at a superb boutique hotel, The Baglioni, near Kensington High Street (Oh yes, Mr. Depp is very definitely a Class Act).

When I met the man himself, he was kitted out for the Willie Wonka role in Tim Burton’s refacimento of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate factory. He looked surreal: a crimson Valiant vision of velvet-elegance with a hint of mischief’s menace in the electronic smile (you’ll see what I mean, when the movie releases in 005). Then he shook my hand – warm, strong, painter-musician grip – and took 90 seconds to set me free in the mansion of his heart.

What can I tell you? All of Johnny’s fans ( a considerable number of them have contacted me in recent weeks) will be delighted but not surprised to hear that he’s just about the nicest guy on the goddamn planet. He’s generous, considerate, modest, brave, intelligent, good-hearted, creative, funny, gentle, wise, loving, loyal, hard-working, and almost unbearably cool.

Watching him work, on the set of Tim Burton’s C and the CF, was an education in itself. The total professional, Johnny puts passion and intensity into every take, and is always in the moment. No less important, it seemed to me, was the way that he brought so much affectionate communication to every other actor in each scene, and extended that warmth to every member of the crew. It was a happy, positive set, and I put that down to Johnny’s art, and his good heart, and to the sensitive brilliance of his friend, the wonderful Tim Burton.

Shantaram the movie is due to released in 2008, and will be directed by Indian director Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding). Johnny Depp, whom you just know will somehow manage to look cool in a handle-bar moustache, will star and produce.

In the absence of a trailer being available to watch, we’re going to have to be content for now with a video of the author talking about his experiences living in a Bombay slum:

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