As a drama thriller that centers around fugitive Lin Ford as he tries to lose himself amid the streets of Bombay, India, back in the 1980s, Apple TV+’s ‘Shantaram’ is as captivating as it is baffling. That’s because it charts not just his initial journey of positive reinvention but also the way he soon developed close ties to the criminal underworld and became an integral part of the local mobs. He thus stepped into a couple of rivalries as well, yet his most significant was seemingly with a ruthless brothel owner called Madame Zhou — so now let’s find out the reality of it all, shall we?
Is Madame Zhou Based on a Real Person?
Since ‘Shantaram’ is based on the 2003 novel of the same name by Gregory David Roberts, which in itself is heavily inspired by his life, it’s nearly impossible to separate fiction from reality here. However, the author has since insisted the book is not an autobiography in any way, shape, or form because the “characters, dialogue, and narrative structure are all created.” In fact, on his now-redirected website for the book, he’d even elucidated, “none of the characters bears even a remote resemblance to any real person,” meaning Madame Zhou doesn’t exist in the actual world.
With this said, though, the brothel owner could be a combination of every interaction or event GDB shared alongside sex workers during his time in Bombay, just on a much more intense level. After all, considering the manner Madame Zhou is depicted in the novel, she’s honestly the epitome of barbaric sexual depravation as well as cruel feminine torture in the worst ways imaginable. That’s part of why her prostitution ground is known as The Palace, behind the creepy yet intricately designed walls of which she maintained her mysterious sense of importance for a long time.
The problem between Madame Zhou and Lin hence arose when he stepped foot into the brothel pretending to be a US embassy consular named Gilbert Parker to help Lisa Carter get out for good. It honestly bruised her ego much more than it affected her business, driving her to seek revenge by getting him thrown into prison — pushing him to carefully orchestrate a plan of retaliation of his own. Nevertheless, by the time Lin made his way to her, she’d already lost everything because another vengeance seeker had burned the Palace and all her brutal ambitions alongside it.
Did Madame Zhou’s Palace Really Exist?
While many believe Madame Zhou’s Palace (or at least its possible inspiration) was right on Falkland Road in Bombay, GDB has since revealed this location is entirely fictional as well. Yes, this street is still one of the largest red-light districts in the world, yet the author has clearly referred to the brothel as a “figurative ‘island’ within the context of the novel” on his website. Alongside the Palace, some of the other fictional locations in his book, and thus the Apple TV+ original series, are reportedly the mob boss Khader “Khader Bhai” Khan’s house, the Nabila Mosque, and the Chinese-gothic Mandarin Hotel in Mauritius, amongst much more.