When the novel Shantaram was published in 2003, several parties, including actor Russell Crowe, expressed interest in a film adaptation. Although Crowe was temporarily attached to a bid, Warner Bros. went forward with a $2 million bid primarily due to actor Johnny Depp's expression of love for the book to studio executive Brad Grey. With the rights won, Depp was attached to star in the film, which was to be based on a script written by the book's author Gregory David Roberts. Roberts commended the casting choice, and the author said of his intended script, "The screenplay I am writing will be as complex and will have the same sense of layering and texturing. Thematically, it will reflect everything that is in the heart of the book and that is the exile experience, and the power of love to transform and change the heart of a person. But the book is a book and the film is a film—they are different art forms so the film will have an independent life." In October 2005, Warner Bros. hired screenwriter Eric Roth to rewrite the initial draft created by Roberts. The following November, director Peter Weir was hired by the studio to helm Shantaram and develop the script with Roth. The studio originally planned to schedule production for late 2006.
By June 2006, Weir departed from the project with a studio spokesperson citing different interpretations between the director and the studio and producers. In January 2007, director Mira Nair replaced Weir at the helm. The studio anticipated production would begin by autumn 2007 for a 2008 release. Roth began rewriting the script to lower project costs, and actor Amitabh Bachchan joined to star opposite Depp. By November 2007, the anticipated February production start was cancelled by Warner Bros, who cited the 2007–2008 Writers Guild of America strike's interference with the script's readiness, the impending monsoon season in India, and Depp's schedule difficulties in filming between India and New Mexico in the United States. The studio anticipated that production would finally begin in September 2008, but by November 2009, with production not starting, The Independent reported the project had been cancelled.
In May 2013, the Mumbai Mirror reported that Warner Bros. has negotiated to retain the film rights until 2015, fuelling speculation that a film adaptation of Shantaram is still in the works.
In October 2013, it was announced that Joel Edgerton would be starring in the leading role, with Eric Roth penning the adaptation, and Johnny Depp now involved as a producer. Warner Bros. is in early talks with Garth Davis, co-director of the Emmy-nominated Top of the Lake, to make his feature film directing debut on the movie.