Where there’s a Will, there’s a sinetron Duncan Graham
If you consider sinetrons (soap operas) much ado about nothing, the most base Indonesian art form loitering at the depths where tectonic plates jostle for space, then this BTW is about to change your mind.
Lend me your tears, for I come not to bury sinetrons, but to praise them.
My extensive research shows that sinetrons have style and substance. They embrace the wit and wisdom of our times, expose emotions, drive visions, reveal truths. Watch closely and you’ll notice they’re really high culture, up there with Shakespeare.
The prolific penman from Stratford-on-Avon had a way (or as he was wont to say at home, Hathaway) with plots. And so does Raam Punjabi, the producer from Jakarta-on-Ciliwung and boss of PT Multivision Plus, custodian of this republic’s rich tele-literature and clearly a Shakespearean scholar of note. Mainly large currencies,
Take the use of soliloquies. The Bard employed this technique to avoid scene building and shifting and it’s an equally handy cost saver for a budget shoot. The tousle-haired lad who ponders on the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune as the Prince of Demak, astonished at the arrival of Islam in his hometown, has other things on his mind. He’s just learned that his family is more dysfunctional than the House of Windsor. Better to muse aloud than employ set designers.
Black magic practitioners are the unstable staple of a good sinetron. On the small screen they’re usually men with bad teeth and rank hair and a fondness for goat-skull arrangements. But just like the three hags from the highlands they make vile brews, rabbit on over their steaming road-kill menu and unleash fearsome threats we know will come to pass, like night the day.
Scenes in cemeteries are a dead giveaway of the plagiarism, with a grove of frangipani sheltering the mist-shrouded tombstones the tropic equivalent of a blasted heath. Bringing on the banshees is a masterful piece of theater equally effective on SCTV as it was in the Globe where the God-fearing Elizabethans were as partial to a haunting as any modern Javanese.
Treason, treachery and trauma – but what about love? Muhammad Montague and Sri Capulet are faithful remakes of the timeless theme. In Indonesia these involve teenage trysts set in the local high school, a furnace of raw emotions where trigonometry means plotting a three-way affair.
Mr Punjabi knows well that though the path of true love never did run smooth it does lead to his bank.
Who hasn’t thrilled at the sequence where the red-lipped, rouge-cheeked nymph in her seam-straining white shirt and black skirtlet flits and flirts from class to class on level two?
Missed it? No worries, you can catch it tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.
Meanwhile her beau with a showroom-fresh Mercedes CLK 350 coupe parked among the clapped-out Yamahas gets a glimpse of her long black locks as she steals a glance over the wall of cancerous concrete.
Don’t tell me this clip doesn’t have a direct lineage to Mr WS’s static balcony scene.
The world’s finest wordsmith was flexible enough to add bawdiness to his plots, a bit of light relief for the folk in the pits. Sinetrons follow suit with comedies of errors, using dishevelled security guards as the knockabout buffoons, indifferent to the needs of the anti-hero desperately seeking to break into his mother-in-law’s house and drip caustic soda into her happy soda.
Not that she doesn’t deserve the crimson phial treatment. These brutal, scheming maid-monstering matrons are determined to thwart young love. They make the mad Scotswoman’s ambitions for her weak-kneed soldier hubby a toddler’s bedtime story.
But all’s well that ends well. The villains in the best sinetrons realise that using shabu-shabu as an elixir isn’t so smart (a message that’s lost on some actors if the gossip tabloids are right). Overnight their tattoos vanish and they awake from their midsummer night’s dream with neat haircuts and no interest in a cold Bintang or a winning hand at cards. So they return to mum, the mosque and the patient virgin in the headscarf.
So don’t knock Indonesia’s sinetrons. There’s method in their madness. Remember – the play’s the thing.
(First published in the Sunday Post 7 september 08)