Excel Entertainment Boards Kashmir-Set Music and Woman Empowerment Tale ‘Songs of Paradise’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Ritesh Sidhwani and Farhan Akhtar’s Indian studio Excel Entertainment has boarded Danish Renzu’s film “Songs of Paradise” as a producer.

“Songs of Paradise” tells the story of the first female singer at Radio Kashmir, a radio station in the valley of Kashmir, a paradise on earth marred by conflict. The film is inspired by the music and songs of Raj Begum (1927-2016). It explores Begum’s journey of becoming a singer at a time when women had limited rights. It highlights the people who opened doors for female artists in the valley and helped them break barriers and stereotypes.

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Saba Azad (“Rocket Boys”) plays the lead role. The cast also includes Soni Razdan (“Pippa”), Zain Khan Durrani (“Mukhbir: The Story of a Spy”), Taaruk Raina (“Mismatched”), Sheebha Chaddha (“The Trial”), Shishir Sharma (“Kazi”) and Lillette Dubey (“Made in Heaven”).

Producers include Sidhwani, Akhtar, Shafat Qazi, Renzu and Kassim Jagmagia. Excel is a prominent Mumbai-based studio with a footprint across the film and streaming spaces. “Songs of Paradise” is now completing its post-production process.

Sidhwani and Akhtar told Variety: “We are honored to bring ‘Songs of Paradise’ to audiences. This film is a testament to our commitment to storytelling that transcends boundaries. We continue to strive for narratives that resonate, inspire and celebrate the human spirit.”

Kashmir-born, UCLA-educated Renzu made his feature directorial debut with “Half Widow” (2017), which had the Kashmir conflict as a backdrop. It won two awards at the New Jersey International Festival. His sophomore effort “The Illegal” (2021) featured “Life of Pi” star Suraj Sharma as a film school student from India who is forced to drop out to support his family while staying in the U.S. as an undocumented worker. It won the jury prize at the Mumbai Film Festival.

“It was a dream come true to be able to make ‘Songs of Paradise.’ It showcases Kashmir’s forgotten rich poetry and music never seen before on celluloid. The film is inspired by the music of legendary singer Raj Begum who left no stone unturned to continue pursuing her dreams to sing at a time when women had limited rights. With lack of opportunities, technology, equipment and proper studio, it’s heartwarming to see a woman who wanted to bring about change and contribute significantly to the music of Kashmir,” Renzu told Variety. “With Excel on board,  it’s an honor to have brilliant producers like Farhan Akhtar and Ritesh Sidhwani to take this film forward and present it to the worldwide audience.”

Azad added: “I think it’s really important to tell human stories from conflict regions, to speak of triumphs and joys, to celebrate culture and art. It’s easy to paint a place in strife with broad strokes, view it as a homogenised, faceless mass, it’s dehumanizing, somewhere within that the individual disappears and with it relatability and empathy. Raj Begum is one of the unsung heroes of the region and I hope  the film helps her story travel.”

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