Fact File: Song of the Sun God

Fact File: Song of the Sun God

June 18, 2024

Fact File

Karen Radzyner, executive producer and head of development at Sydney’s Photoplay Films, tells DQ about upcoming drama Song of the Sun God, which is being adapted from Shankari Chandran’s novel of the same name.

Karen Radzyner

Winning the Content London Drama Series Pitch
Song of the Sun God won the C21 Drama Series Pitch Competition at Content London in December last year. We’re in advanced development and have a pilot and bible ready to go. The judges described it as “gripping,” “sweeping” and “epic,” and loved that it was based on an award-winning book and being developed by “a team capable of delivering on its powerful ambitions.” This team includes lead writer and executive producer Olivia Hetreed (Girl with a Pearl Earring), lead actor and associate producer Charithra Chandran (Bridgerton); UK coproducer Synchronicity Films’ Claire Mundell (The Cry, The Tattooist of Auschwitz); and our super-talented author and executive producer Shankari Chandran.

Pachinko meets Tehran
Song of the Sun God is a six-hour prestige thriller whose twists unearth decades of secrets in a British family, the Rajans. Everything will change for Leela after her aunt Dhara visits her briefly in Edinburgh, to speak at a conference, then disappears. Leela, born and raised in London and now living in Edinburgh, has never questioned why her family concealed her cultural heritage – until events triggered by this visit threaten to bring her world crashing down.
By the end of episode one, a sinister white van is waiting for Dhara in the shadows of Colombo General Hospital car park, far from Edinburgh, family or help. Leela’s search for her missing aunt will take her to Australia and on to Sri Lanka, in the midst of the dangerous and controversial 2019 presidential elections, where she quickly lands in serious trouble with the Sri Lankan government’s brutal secret police.

Charithra Chandran
She is playing our lead and is one of two Tamil producers on the series (and is unrelated to Shankari Chandran). Gracing the cover of Teen Vogue when she starred as Miss Edwina Sharma in Bridgerton’s second season, she said her dream would be to produce and star in “a film about the crisis in Sri Lanka with the Tamil population… It’s near and dear to my heart because it’s my community.” We were already tracking her for our lead so it was thrilling to find out she was deeply invested in this story, and we reached out to her immediately. We’re a tight-knit team now and are loving developing this together, across continents.

Shankari Chandran

Behind the headlines
Sri Lanka is this little post-colonial island that can’t stay out of the international headlines, but it has never been the subject of a TV drama. Through the lens of a Tamil family we fall in love with, who have so much to lose, this book and series reveal a little-known 21st century civil war. As it does for Charithra, this is a story that resonates for all 300 million Tamils around the world but also for all those who have welcomed the expansive Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora into their lives in new home countries, including the UK, US, Australia, Canada, France and Germany. But secrets buried in war have a dangerous habit of resurfacing.

Adapting a bestselling novel
I laughed my way through tears for the last 50 pages of Shankari’s incredibly moving – and somehow funny – book. Olivia’s script delivers the same punch. It is important to us to uphold the book’s powerful emotions. This is a touchstone we return to, even as we mess with chronology.
The motifs, colours, Hindu mythology and themes that unfold through the book are being carefully crafted into a structure that grips a TV audience across six episodes, is rich in its British cultural foundation and is true to its Australian characters, all while telling a captivating South Asian story of resilience, displacement and love.

A creative team reflecting the story’s diversity
We’re developing a story set across three continents, with a creative team reflecting all three. It makes for an epic and expansive story experience, transportive and sweeping. Thanks to the support of development partners Cineflix Rights, Screen Australia and Screen NSW, we’ve been able to get the cross-continental team together in person several times, including a precious week of intense development in London just before the world shut down in January 2020. We hope our next meeting will be in Sri Lanka, Kerala, Goa or Tamil Nadu, places that will make authentic filming locations for the colonial mansions, jungles, beaches and wild war zones the series will depict.

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