Sunday, April 4, 2010

MERANTAU (2009): Reasons Muslims have to write the culture of Muslims

MERANTAU (2009) is not a perfect film. It is outstanding in its effort to showcase an art form and an aspect of culture seldom seen in the media. However, it contains some obvious errors in writing a film to reflect a cultural aspect of a particular group of people after the story invested a large part of the story on the Islamic aspect of the characters.

1. A Muslim writer who understands and practices the tenets of Islam will show how the religion is integral in the lives of the characters.

The writer spends a lot of time showing the religious aspects of the society Yuda came from - a devout Muslim family and a society entrenched with Islamic values. This is seen in the prayer scene in Yuda's house and the 'pelepasan' ceremony' (Indonesian cut). The international cut sees the sejadah nonchalantly hangs on Yuda's bed, a very intimate reminder of how Muslims hang their sejadah on their beds. Being once upon a time a person on a lot of merantau myself, the sejadah on the bed is very familiar.

But then when Yuda arrives in the city, he sleeps in a construction site, in a concrete piling structure. I know the structure looks great on screen, but at least have Yuda clean himself and pray in a mosque first, as I believe they don't allow people to have a wholesale sleepover in mosques these days. There is a scene where Yuda was going to sleep in the concrete circle and the azan was heard and he did absolutely nothing to respond to the call of prayer.

Now, this is okay if you're writing films about drift racing or the bohsia thingy, but not after the prayer scene in MERANTAU.

2. A Muslim writer will not question the concept of rezeki.

In anger, the go-go club dancer Astri cynically said that 'people believe that having a lot of children will bring rezeki and for someone to take care of them in old age, but they are not ready to feed the mouths of the children before one day the children bring them rezeki' and as a result Astri dan her little brother were left in a lurch by their parents. I know how anger makes people say things and blame fate but presented in a film, this is cold.

A Muslim writer will have to say something through Yuda's words, that she should not put blame on rezeki and say things happen for reasons that God has dictated. But Yuda was silent going through that while he himself had lost his father (dead) thus giving him some personal experience to comment about pain and hardship.

3. A Muslim writer will make the hero gain strength from his faith.

Every time Yuda is about to face an opponent/ opponents he will have this few seconds of deep breath. A Muslim hopeful will think that he is doing a silent prayer, to gain strength and guidance from Allah Almighty. But the scenes were so wordless. As a work of writing, faith sometimes need to be translated into words.

And the penultimate act - Yuda managed to say a lot of things to Astri about a lot of things, but not a mention of God's name came from him. Well, if he was suddenly hit by a truck I wouldn't be complaining but believe me, he did say a lot to Astri.

4. A Muslim writer will be sensitive about the aurat.

It is great that Yuda was geared in such Muslim sensibility. He didn't do a Tony Jaa, displaying flexed muscles and mucles aren't what that matter in martial arts. But when Astri was in the village, she was wearing that crazy pair of shorts picking tomatoes with Yuda's elder brother following her around like he was under somekind of spell. And we saw in the opening scene there was a girl wearing a head scarf in the field picking chillies. Astri should at least wear track pants if she was not into the headscarf yet.

But then, MERANTAU is not written by a Muslim. And the bloopers are understandable. The writer did try his best representing a culture that very few Muslim writers will do in the future. And it is very difficult to say that silat and Islam in the South East Asia region are mutually exclusive.

But at least, for writers who are Muslims, please, please try to not write works that glorify illegal automobile racing, bohsia thingy, 'evil' ghost stories, and lame comedies. We are basically living on a goldmine that was waiting to be discovered and it has been discovered and we are just watching with jaws dropping to the floor. Up next from the writer is something called 'Berandal' (look it up in Kamus Dewan) and it won't be as nice and wholesome as MERANTAU. So there goes.

And I won't be a writer who hopes in bated breath that some upstart filmaker to turn my books into films. I don't give myself that much credit. I 'm just hoping these people can start to write good films and then, they can do justice to the literature texts.