By Nauval Yazid
Before we start thinking about what film will follow in the footsteps of “Kuntilanak” (2006), “Get Married” (2007), “Laskar Pelangi” (2008) and “Ketika Cinta Bertasbih 2” (2009) as the highest-grossing Indonesian film release this Lebaran period, as usual we have to contend with some lower quality entertainment. Films released during the holy month of Ramadan, which always sees a major drop in cinema attendances, generally are neither box office sensations nor creative masterpieces.
Thus, in line with what could have been expected, Indonesian films released in this slow period in the last couple of years, such as the inter-racial drama “cinTa” (Love), family drama “Kata Maaf Terakhir” (The Last Apology) and horror “Pocong Jalan Blora” (The Ghost of Blora Street) were no smashing hits.
And by the time the Lebaran holiday — considered a commercial holy grail for Indonesian film releases — came around, these films had been replaced by Indonesian equivalents of Hollywood’s summer blockbuster flicks.
This year, low-brow flicks such as horror films “Nakalnya Anak Muda” (The Mischievous Young People) and “Selimut Berdarah” (The Bloody Blanket), and drama “D’Love” hit the cinemas a few weeks before Ramadan.
Out of the three, only “Nakalnya” is still screened in big theaters across the nation, while the rest have already been relegated to minor cinemas.
Hardly relevant to the spirit of Ramadan, these films may as well pull in the remaining income of their decreasing box-office intakes before they are replaced by new films vying for gold during the holiday period.
Following last year’s re-emergence of the genre of religious romance, one of this year’s offerings, “Sang Pencerah” (The Guiding Light), pays homage to epic-scale religion-themed dramas popular in the 80s.
The film is about national hero Ahmad Dahlan, the founding father of Muhammadiyah — the biggest Muslim organization in Indonesia — who also helped to usher in the nation’s resistance movement in early 20th century.
The period piece is directed by Hanung Bramantyo, the man behind “Ayat-Ayat Cinta” (Verses of Love), which sparked the success of Indonesian religious romance films in the past two years.
The man in the spotlight is played by Lukman Sardi, supported by an impressive cast that sees Hanung’s real-life partner Zaskia Adya Mecca play Ahmad’s wife Siti Walidah.
The former “Indonesian Idol” champion Ihsan Tatote stars as the young Ahmad Dahlan and the pop sensation Giring (of Nidji) plays the part of Ahmad’s protege Sudja.
Lukman might end up competing against himself in the battle of box-office hits as he also stars in “Darah Garuda” (The Blood of Garuda), a sequel to the war epic “Merah Putih” (Red White).
The second part of the Indonesian Freedom trilogy, “Darah Garuda” delivers big and loud action set during Indonesia’s fight against Dutch troops in 1947.
Local cinematographer Yadi Sugandi and producer Conor Allyn rely on an impressive cast, including the aforementioned Lukman, Donny Alamsyah, Darius Sinathrya, Ario Bayu and Atiqah Hasiholan, to name a few.
“Darah Garuda” is a rarity, indeed, as it is the only war film released for Lebaran since the reawakening of Indonesian cinema earlier this century.
It stands in contrast to the safe staple genre of comedy, which has been associated with the holiday period for decades.
Those growing up in the 80s and 90s can probably recall watching films starring the iconic trio of comedians Warkop DKI (Dono, Kasino, Indro) at packed cinemas during Lebaran.
This year’s comedy line-up includes two very different offerings, a musical parody and an adult comedy. “Laskar Pemimpi” (A Troop of Dreamers) sees the singing comedy group Project Pop in their first feature film performance.
The troop members are tasked with preventing the demolition of Yogyakarta by the invading Dutch. Needless to say, along the way, they break out in song and dance.
The film stars Shanty, Dwi Sasono, Marcell Siahaan and T. Rifnu Wikana, who is also in “Darah Garuda.” The film’s director, Monty Tiwa, is no stranger to comedy, having penned and directed the likes of “XL — Extra Large” and “Otomatis Romantis.”
Moving to a comedy dealing with more contemporary issues, there is the tantalizingly titled “Lihat Boleh Pegang Jangan” (Just Look, Don’t Touch).
The film relies heavily on the sexy image of its actress Dewi Perssik, which she usually dons in horror films.
In this flick, she reunites with production company Maxima Pictures and director Findo Purwono, who is no stranger to quick-made low-budget films with simple story lines.
And this comedy, which centers on meatball vendors facing stiff competition from newcomers to the business, is no exception.
Joining the already eclectic line-up of films is “Dawai-Dawai Asmara” (The Love Chords), which sees the return of Rhoma Irama, the so-called king of the music genre dangdut, after a 17-year hiatus from the big screen.
This time he joins his son, Ridho Irama, an emerging dangdut singer himself, as well former VJ Cathy Sharon and “Indonesian Idol” winner Delon.
It is anybody’s guess which film takes the box office crown this Lebaran. My bet is “Sang Pencerah,” given its official endorsement by Muhammadiyah, which has millions of followers across the nation.