Sang Penari (The Dancer)

I promised myself that I would write something about the movie Sang Penari (The Dancer) which was inspired by Ahmad Tohari’s book titled Ronggeng Dukuh Paruk as soon as I finished the book.

And now I’ve finished the book. So here we go.

First of all, I usually try to discipline myself in a way that I ought to always read the book first before I watch the movie (of course, we’re talking about movies which are adapted from the book). But then Sang Penari came up, and I was so intrigued by the trailer alone. Then I met my friends and we talked about it. I was actually thinking: “Okay. Let’s gamble. I’ll ask her if she’d watch the movie with me, but if she–like me, insisted on reading the novel first, then I’d read the novel first no matter what. The movie came later.” Yet when I met my friends, my lips are locked. I don’t know. I feel like I ought not to gamble on this one. Or maybe I’m just too afraid of getting the answer and see how it’d turned out. (Really? Over a movie and a novel?–Yes, really really.)

Then something unexpected happened. My friend, out of nowhere, became the one who asked me, “Hey, do you remember the movie Sang Penari? Do you want to watch it togehter?”

I could hardly contain myself, really. The movie it is!!

So, anyway, here’s a bit of the trailer for you guys to see:

In brief, Sang Penari tells a story which revolves around a girl, which turned into a beautiful woman called Srintil. Srintil was born and raised in a small village in a rural area called Dukuh Paruk. This village is crucial as it becomes a place which pretty much shape Srintil’s destiny and personality.

There’s a tradition which has been going on and on for years in Dukuh Paruk, where they would always have an icon called Ronggeng. Put it in a simple way, Ronggeng is pretty much similar to Japanese Geisha. The difference here is the role of Ronggeng in the society especially the society of Dukuh Paruk. Ronggeng is the symbol of art and sex, I’d say. Ronggeng usually dances and performs in various villages and places during the day, and though the dance is pretty much a Javanese dance, but from what I’ve seen and read, I got the impression that the dance is more of an erotic dance, where people would shout remarks which refer to sex. The audience were also able to give tips to the Ronggeng by slipping money in the inside part of her clothes which cover her breasts. Later at night, men, who are mostly married, would pay as much as they could to have sex with her. Surprisingly, their wives would not mind at all since they believe that after their husband have sex with the Ronggeng, their husband would be able to give them offsprings. There’s this one scene where a housewife picked up her husband, and thanked Srintil the Ronggeng then expressed her wish that she now hope she could get pregnant again.

Srintil had been dreaming to become a Ronggeng all her life, so when she finally became a Ronggeng, she was really excited. There’s only one problem: Rasus. Rasus is her childhood friend and later became her lover. At least until she finally became a Ronggeng. To think logically, who could stand having your girl friend becoming a public’s “property” anyway? So Rasus fled the village and joined the army, leaving Srintil broken hearted.

Basically, the movie is a love story between Rasus and Srintil who ended up getting caught up in the midst of the chaos of the 30 September movement. Srintil and all her friends and relatives in Dukuh Paruk ended up suffering in a concentration camp for  suspected communists while Rasus is a part of the army who put people in the camp. He was tormented between choosing to follow orders as a soldier or to follow his heart in Dukuh Paruk. He ended up going from camp to camp looking for Srintil though. Did they finally reunited and get the happy ending? Well, do you really want spoilers?

Now, the book.

My curiosity was pumped after watching the movie. And I’m getting even more excited as soon as I found out that I could get a 20% off in the bookstore if I purchased the book with the movie ticket. So I called the bookstore. After making sure that I’d get the 20% off, I bought the book. (Okay fine, it’s only 20%, but it could actually save me a meal, believe me. It’s worth it!)

Now, one thing you must know is that this newer version of Ronggeng Dukuh Paruk (the cover above) is actually a 3 in 1 version of a trilogy. The whole movie itself is actually inspired by the whole trilogy.

The first part of the trilogy is titled, of course, Ronggeng Dukuh Paruk, followed by the second part of the trilogy: Lintang Kemukus Dini Hari, and the last part: Jantera Bianglala.

The decision to name the whole 3 in 1 version as Ronggeng Dukuh Paruk is not a bad one, I guess, since the story itself focus indeed on the Ronggeng.

Reaching the first five pages of the book, I thought, “Damn. Thank God I watch the movie first.” I know I’m gonna hate the movie if I read the novel beforehand.

The thing is, for you who actually expect the movie to be exactly or at least 80% similar to the book or vice versa, you’d definitely get disappointed.

I mean it.

But then, I also remembered that ever since the trailer came out, it was never said that movie was “adapted from” the book. They always put it as “inspired by” the book. Not adapted. Inspired.

So I was kinda guessing, actually, (with fear, of course) that the book might actually be completely different from the movie.

And my hunch was right.

One of the main difference that I noticed right away is the age of the main characters.

In the movie, both Srintil and Rasus were already grown-ups (at least Srintil must be in her early 20s) when she became a Ronggeng and finally lost her virginity. In the book, Srintil was only 11 and Rasus was 14. Of course, it shouldn’t be a surprise considering the area where they live and grew up. They was born and raised in a rural area, where young marriage (an extraordinarily young marriage) was considered pretty common, not to mention it was only 1960s at that time, which make it more common, supposedly. Yet the movie make it so different. On the other hand, I think many people would definitely surprised and protest if they actually bring an 11 year old girl to merely act like she was losing her virginity to a 14 year old boy. Fine, of course, that might happen here and there, but to display that in a movie might still be a contradiction. I remember that they actually need to ask for Olivia Hussey’s permission before she could actually showed up naked in the 1968’s version of Romeo and Juliet.

Another difference is the plot. They still do include the conflict and tragedy of the 30 September movement, including the communist influence of small villages like Dukuh Paruk, but the whole story is pretty much more complicated in the novel. (Of course, it’s a novel, AND a trilogy, to be exact, so what do you expect, eh?)

Despite the differences, I have to say that I love both the novel and the movies, and I then realize that to keep comparing the movie with the novel is a useless effort. The movie was inspired by the book, not adapted. So what I’m actually doing right now is treating the novel and the movie as two different work of art and literature. They’re similar but different. That’s it. I love the movie. And I love the novel. I love both plots. I love both endings. (You still don’t want spoilers, don’t you?) I love each of the characters.

Since the novel has no visual, of course it relies heavily of Ahmad Tohari’s narrative throughout the novel. And I have to say: wow. The way he narrates things, I was wow-ed with the way he played with words alone. Not to mention the way he takes his readers to this rural areas where Dukuh Paruk is located, where its citizens all live in poverty, yet none of them seem to want to have better life–they simply thought that that is what life is all about: acceptance of their poverty, despite the fact that they don’t eat good food, they suffer from malnutrition and other horrible stuffs. To them, having a rice and scrambled eggs are already considered luxury.

Prisia Nasution

The movie, on the other hand, has many elements in it. One the most important element is of course the act of the actress and actor. The actress playing Srintil is, later I found out, a new actress in the movie industry: Prisia Nasution and the actor playing Rasus is Oka Antara. I have to say that I’m not very familiar with Indonesian actress and actor since I’m not used to watch many Indonesian movies before. Other than Sang Penari and Laskar Pelangi (Rainbow Troops), I used to have this stereotype that Indonesian movies are mostly teenlit, and is definitely not my favorite genre. Of course I was wrong. There are plenty other movies which are definitely not teenlit or chicklit. So right now, I’m trying to catch up by following some famous titles such as Perempuan Punya Cerita, Merah Putih and Merantau. Anyway, I heard some people said that Prisia Nasution is not the right actress to play Srintil in the movie because she looked like a dark-skinned Japanese. Well, she has narrow eyes, indeed, but I think she did splendidly in the movie. I was wow-ed with the way she played with the emotion inside Srintil: when she was about to lose her virginity to a guy she didn’t like, but then Rasus suddenly showed up. Her despair and broken heart toward Rasus, the way she danced and sing, the way she act like a woman who’s desperate for a child. Wow. I think she acted so well there in the movie. And Oka Antara? Same wow. One

Oka Antara

thing that really surprised and excited me when I was watching the movie is that the language used in the movie is the Banyumasan Javanese–the Javanese with the local accent used in my hometown. Of course, I was then like, “Right. Ahmad Tohari is from somewhere near my hometown, of course his story would revolve around the places around it and of course the people in the story would talk like that.” But still, I was surprised. Now, in the movie, Oka Antara played a young man named Rasus, who went from this stupid guy from a small village and can’t even read, and can barely shout or speak firmly the first time he join the army. I chuckled every time I remember him speaking, “I can’t read, sir,” to his commander in the army with a thick local accent. When the army took him to their place, he looked like this lost little kid and seemed scared of everything and everybody. But the army educated him, and then he became this firm, stern-looking guy who’s considered one of the best soldier in the army. I mean, how many people can actually showed such a progress so obviously and yet so naturally? Really, wow.

Another character that really wow-ed me is this character named Sakum. He’s one of the musician who always accompany Srintl whenever she performs. What’s special about Sakum is that he’s the complement of each show. He’s the one who always make each performance spicy and lively with his obscene remarks. What makes it even more special is that he’s blind. He can’t see. But he’s one of the musician. He is said to have a sharp sense on things around him. He’s one person you look up to because he’d know what you feel inside you just by listening to your voice and smelling your aura. And the guy playing Sakum in the movie picture this perfectly.

Of course there are plenty other elements in the movie, including the costumes, the setting, etc etc. But what really left a deep impression in me is the emotion conveyed by each actors and actresses. I’m gonna say it again: I love them. The movie and the novel. Such a masterpiece.

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