Soe Hok Gie—A student movement figure at the end of the Old Order era of Indonesia—once wrote a poem entitled “Sebuah Tanya”. In one of his verses he said:
‘Apakah kau masih akan berkata,
Kudengar derap jantungmu.
Kita begitu berbeda dalam semua,
kecuali dalam cinta
(Are you still going to say, I heard the sound of your heart. We are very different in everything, except in love)’.
But one thing that Soe Hok Gie did not expect. Even love, one day also unable to overcome religious differences. Mahesh-Melur and Rosid-Delia, in the following two films, face the same problem.
The first film titled ‘Talentime’, directed by Yasmin Ahmad and produced in 2009. Telling about the talent selection competition for school performance. In the process, it shows relationships between groups and individuals with different backgrounds. Despite having many characters with backgrounds stories, the main story revolves around Mahesh and Melur’s relationship. Mahesh is a boy of Indian race who is Hindu. He is deaf and his family suffered misfortune with the death of his uncle. His mother holds a grudge against the Muslims who are considered the cause of her misfortune. While Melur is a Malay Muslim girl who comes from a fairly moderate family. It is about love of youth, who had been introduced to the wall of difference.
The second film is ‘3 Hati 2 Dunia 1 Cinta (3H2D1C)’. Directed by Benni Setiawan, produced in 2010 supported by Mizan Production. It is an adaptation of two Indonesian bestseller novels entitled ‘Hikayat Da Peci Code’ – a story that reveals how ‘peci’ is interpreted in Indonesia, as a habit and as a symbol. Also the novel ‘Balada Rosid dan Delia’, about the love story of different religions. In the film, Rosid comes from the background of Betawi, Arab, a critical and open-minded Muslim. While Delia is a descendant of Manado, Chinese and a devout Christian. The film is wrestling on the debate in the discourse of different religious marriages. Love between two humans with different religions, faced with the fact of difficulties to unite two different things.
Representation of Characters and Stereotypes
In 3H2D1C, Rosid’s family is a reperesentation of the Betawi-Arab group. The habit of using a nickname that differs from the original name which is also characterizes Betawi-Indonesia in this film, as Rosid is called ‘Ocid’ by his parents. Another Arabic stereotype is shown by Abah’s profession as a clothing merchant in Pasar Tanah Abang.
Unlike Rosid’s family, Delia’s family is Chinese and devoted Christian followers. Even from the entrance and some rooms of the house decorated with Cross-Jesus sign and typical Christian paintings, such as the paintings of Mary and Last Supper in their dining room. But one thing that makes Chinese stereotypes so strong in this film is the economic background of Delia’s family. She is from a wealthy businessman’s family. Delia is also active in religious activities.
The third character in the film is Nabila, a secret fan of Rosid. He was also arranged by his parents to marry Nabila. The shooting angle is always directed at Nabila’s fingers, Nabila’s awkward and nervous manner near Rosid. Showing that Nabila is a typical Muslim woman who is submissive, obedient and seldom interacts with the opposite sex. Although from the beginning the film Nabila described so in love with Rosid, but in the end she explained that the main reason she wanted to marry Rosid is because she did not want to disappoint both families. This part reinforces the background of Nabila who grew up with a strong influence of the conventional family.
Rosid himself is a manifestation of millenial youth who are open-minded and tend to be critical on everything. How he firmly conveys his opinion about the use of ‘Peci’ shows his way of thinking and criticality. He joined a studio that regularly gathered for discussion on contemporary issues. As someone who aspires to be a poet, he uses more Bahasa Indonesia than his family. Delia is described as someone who is not hesitant in making decisions. She sacrificed her dream to study abroad, even had time to think of converting, for the sake of being with Rosid. She focuses on humanitarian issues, joins disaster rescue teams and actively engages in social activities that bring her together with Rosid.
Talentime have different space of characterization. An open-minded atmosphere will be felt in dining room of Melur’s family. Melur living in a Malayan Moslem and moderate family. Their warm character also showed in how the family welcoming the deaf Mahesh. These family members also do not hesitate to express the affection and emotion between each other. Just like Rosid, Melur was one who did not hesitate to express through her own homemade poetry. Typical harmonious families with sister quarrels and having dinner together.
Mahesh’s family: A Hindu Indian families living in the suburbs. Mahesh is a deaf boy who lives with his mother and older sister. His uncle had been their protector since his father was gone. So when misfortune befalls them and his uncle is killed, it becomes a hard blow for his family. Her mother was very sad and hold a grudge against any other group (Moslem-Hindi/Moslem-Malay). Then Mahesh fall for Melur—Part or the group his mother hate so much.
Another characters in Talentime are Hafiz and Kahoe. Both of them have crush in Melur. They love her. However, their portion in the film shows more problems between the two. Hafiz—a Moslem Malayan, lives alone with his mother who suffering from chronic illness. Her mother had to undergo chemo therapy. They are not a rich family and he is abandoned by his father. A typical family full of pain but still trying to smile. Hafiz was slandered at school by Kahoe who hate him. Kahoe comes from a rich Chinese family. His family stressed the importance of achievement. This is evident from how he conveyed his fear to his teacher. There was a scene as he handed his test paper to his father, and his father beat him in the car. That is why he is so threatened by the presence of Hafiz who shifted his position as the first rank in the class. Just like Nabila in 3H2D1C, compared to Mahesh and Melur, both of these figures also only get sufficient portion of the story.
According to Stuart Hall (1997) representation is a representative matter. About what is represented and who represents. Abah played by Rashid Karim (actor of Arab-Betawi descent). Reza Rahardian as Rosid, was also awarded in this role because he was considered capable of representing a critical youth group. The emerging stereotype is also based on common knowledge in Indonesian society. Taufik Nurhidayat (2014), states that inter-ethnic intersections will tend to be juxtaposed with racism. This is due to the stereotypical view of each group. Therefore, racist jokes for some possibilities are no longer taboo. That Arab people generally sell textile products in Tanah Abang, that the Chinese must be rich is common in Indonesian society. Therefore, although not perfect, those above character categories have been quite representative of the related groups.
Films Background and The End of Story
Yasmin Ahmad and Benni Setiawan did a good job. They made the film feel so simple, but complete with a variety of emotions, diversity and multicultural. The difference between the two is motivated by the social target of the directors. As her last work, Talentime is the embodiment of ‘One Malaysia’ vision of Yasmin Ahmad. The target audience segment is teenagers. Through this film Yasmin Ahmad seemed to want to teach the younger generation about tolerance and love in difference.
3H2D1C is slightly heavier in terms of messages and values to be conveyed. Mizan Production itself since its inception in 2006 was a consistent production house that raised issues of Islam, local culture and education. Abah is a typical Betawi-Arab with his mixed-language style. Like how he changed the word ‘Saya/Gue (I)’ with ‘Ane’ which is a blend of Arabic language with a Betawi accent. But the majority of the selection of words he uses is still dominated by the Betawi accent. Delia’s family using English-Indonesian language in their daily communication. Anoegrajekti and Macaryus (2013) mention that the combination of Arabic Betawi culture and the use of Indonesian-English can be identified as multicultural resistance to ideological attitudes that emphasize essentialism and purity. This shows the social condition of betawi-arab community in Jakarta. That nothing is purely Arabic or pure Betawi, but it is the result of a mixture that lasts for many years.
How about the end?
Talentime has a happy ending. Although it is ends without any certainty. 3H2D1C presented an epilogue on the screen stating that the three main characters live happily together with their spouses. While Talentime ends with the unclear decision of Melur and Mahesh’s relationship as well as Kahoe and Hafiz are getting friendly. But the life of Kahoe and his family did not end at a clear solution. Despite successfully demonstrating how psychological warfare and family disagreement on this issue, 3H2D1C ends by searching for a ‘safe path’. Rosid and Delia did not get married. They ‘lost’ their love for the sake of their families. If the two figures are married at the end of the story, I wonder, will 3H2D1C movie still win many awards and best-selling market? Or vice versa, this will become the most controversial film about interfaith marriage in Indonesia. Because when the film is released in Indonesia, interfaith marriage and religious anarchism are two issues that become debates. While trying to be critical, 3H2D1C must finally consider the condition of ‘market’ or profit and loss.
In conclusion, controversy in such sensitive issues is inevitable. There is always a time when multiculturalism and pluralism will trigger tension and strife. It’s not easy to accept the difference. Many films received harsh criticism—or even rejection, for raising sensitive issues about races, religions and cultural groups. One important point to be gained from these two films is, how the directors use comedy as a tension reducer in films with multiculturalism and pluralism themes. Regardless of the depiction and stereotypes displayed, the two films both feature the strength of family elements in the lives of each character. The thing that made me so impressed was how Yasmin Ahmad and Benny Setiawan made me laugh and cry in one movie.
*This is movies review part edited from my Film & Religion midterm essay task entitled “Humor And How It Overcomes The Tension In Multicultural And Pluralism Film”.