INDONESIAN cinema is undergoing a renaissance of sorts. In the first eight months of 2016, eight films have sold well over a million tickets, whereas in 2015 only three movies were as successful.
As shoots clog the city's streets and red-carpet premieres draw the fans, Jakarta has turned into “Jollywood.”
The trailblazer for this phenomenon is undisputedly the “Ada Apa Dengan Cinta” series (“What’s Up with Cinta?”; dubbed AADC1 and 2, released in 2002 and 2016 respectively).
Indeed, the two romantic-comedies (with their warm, “Notting Hill” a la Simon Curtis ethos) - helmed by the Producer/Director team of Riri Riza and Mira Lesmana - have become iconic and interlinked with Indonesia's identity post-Reformasi. Each outing has been something of a national event - a zeitgeist moment - as the republic pauses to reflect both on the state of the nation as well as the star-crossed lovers, Cinta played by Dian Sastrowardoyo, an actress with the luminous beauty of a Kate Winslet, and the craggy handsomeness of Rangga played by Nicholas Saputra.
Karim in Jollywood with Cinta and Rangga. - Karim Raslan illustration
Mira Lesmana explains: "The local film industry was in a coma for much of the 1990's. At that time, everything to do with films required permits and pre-censorship. [The former Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid] Gus Dur changed all that and film was freed."
Back in 2002 and having just come off a surprise hit with the children's movie, Petualangan Sherina (“Sherina’s Adventure”), Mira and Riri were keen to try their hands at the teenage market. "Many people felt we were crazy but I strongly believed that if we spoke to them in the right language, getting into their 'world'; that we could communicate."
The removal of the Suharto-era controls meant film-makers were able to use “bahasa gaul
” (or street talk). AADC1 also drew on the powerful poetry of the Independence hero, Chairil Anwar and script-writer Sjuman Djaya. The combination of the two was electrifying and both leads switched effortlessly between the two levels (one elevated and the other more earthy, not dissimilar to Javanese kromo inggil and kasar
) culminating in a gorgeous sequence at the end of the first movie in which we watch Cinta's reaction as Rangga's voice recites a poem dedicated to her.
Moreover, for Riri the soundtrack is a distinct presence reinforcing the drama. Certainly Anto Hoed and Melly Goeslaw's theme songs have hogged the airwaves for months and years on end. It's hard to disagree when Riri says quite simply: "The film captured the 'Indonesian-ness’ of being young."
In the sequel to the first Ada Apa Dengan Cinta movie, Cinta now owns a hipster joint in Jakarta. - Karim Raslan Photo
And yet when AADC1 first opened in early-2002, its essential optimism – that love and friendship could triumph over prejudice and violence – stood in marked contrast to the grim political and economic realities of the day. Megawati Soekarnoputri sought to consolidate power after Gus Dur’s bruising impeachment while religious-inspired violence in Ambon and Kalimantan flared up periodically.
While acknowledging the random violence uncertainties of the immediate post-Reformasi era, AADC also presented Jakarta as place ripe for romance with threadbare cafes manned by latter-day troubadours, second-hand bookstalls and poorly-lit suburban streets.
However, an ambiguous ending – a passionate reconciliation followed by Rangga's departure for New York and an epistolary declaration of love leaves the romance unresolved.
Fourteen years later and after a mini-version by shot by South Korean soap opera producers for LINE that went viral, we are back in the world of Cinta and Rangga.
Dian speaks to Karim during an interview in Jakarta, Indonesia. - Karim Raslan Photo
Whilst sequels are normally disappointing, AADC2 bucked the trend as evidenced by the 3.7 million tickets it sold and the scenes of near-hysteria at many cinemas – not unlike the success experienced by the Philippine matinee idol, John Lloyd Cruz in this year's hit movie "A Second Chance."
Our two on-screen lovers - as well as Indonesia - have certainly changed. Both have matured with Cinta now the owner of a hipster joint in Jakarta, whilst Rangga is a co-owner of a cafe in New York.
In AADC2, the city of Yogyakarta – historic, deeply cultured and artistic – becomes the touchstone for their mutual love, replacing the role played by the poetry in AADC1. We watch as Yogya works its charms on a furious Cinta, softening her anger at Rangga's decade-long absence. But thankfully – and hey, this essentially a 'chick-flick' – the lovers finally do come together.
Karim suspects there will be a third “outing” of AADC. - Karim Raslan Photo
Whilst AADC1 was about growing up, discovering yourself and making hard choices: friends, family or lovers? AADC2, on the other hand, is more about coming to terms with the choices you have made even as you spread your wings to take on the world.
Perhaps that is why the AADC films have struck such a cord with Indonesian audiences. The films chart in an emotional sense the distance the country has travelled and how much farther it can still go.
Indeed the weight of expectation is something that both Dian and Nicholas have been living with for over fourteen years. On the one hand there are the straight-forward hopes for a resurrected film industry but on the other hand there is something far weightier - namely the hopes and dreams of an entire nation - for two (once) young lovers Rangga and Cinta.
And it's because of this that I suspect there will be a third “outing” if only because as this generation of Indonesians grows older they'll be looking to Rangga and Cinta (as previous generations would have turned to the wayang characters of Arjuna and Srikandi) for entertainment, for guidance and most importantly, for shared memories. For more interesting stories from this region, visit here