Tiga Dara – Indonesian musical from 1956

The Indonesian Film Festival has returned to Melbourne Town and Budhe has just gone to see a showing – a restored copy of a musical from 1956 called “Tiga Dara”.

The plot! A widower in Jakarta in the 1950s lives with his mother-in-law and three daughters – Nunung, Nana and Neni. Nunung has just turned 29, and her grandmother is determined that she be married ASAP. So she sets about securing a suitable suitor. But Nunung is too proud and independent to show any interest towards her grandmother’s chosen candidate, Toto. Nana, on the other hand, Nana enjoys the fact that Toto is rich and successful, and she sets her mind to securing a proposal from him. Nene disapproves of Nana’s treatment of an old suitor, and wants to see Nunung and Toto together. Then, a small amount of shenanigans. That’s it in a nutshell. No spoilers here.

Budhe enjoys watching Indo films… There’s something fascinating and mentally stimulating – beyond the normal considerations one gives to any film you watch. But watching a film created in a culture that is foreign to the one you yourself were raised in, brings to mind all sorts of really interesting things to ponder about what is normal, what is not.

For myself, watching this film, when the grandmother announces that Nana cannot get married before Nunung, I just nodded and thought “Yeah, of course. Nothing odd about that.” The film critic hosting the Q&A afterwards brought that up as an example of how quaint and old-fashioned things used to be. Oh, his face when it was pointed out that that attitude was still kinda prevalent! (Budhe can’t speak for all of Indonesia, but she does know that her brother was asked to delay marrying his girlfriend, so that his older sister could have more of a chance to get married.)

Then again, I almost freaked out when I saw a shot of a bra casually flung on a bed, and I full on could not believe my eyes (astagh firullahal’azim!¹) when I saw party people casually wandering around in bathing suits and speedos. SPEEDOS, folks! Speedos!!! But in the discussion afterwards, that came up and the guy in charge of the restoration pointed out that back in the 1950s, Indonesians were far more casual about displaying so much skin. So it wasn’t just me surprised at bare chests on display.

‹«As an aside – even in the last 20 years, I’ve felt that parts of Indonesian society have grown more and more… conservative? Modest? Again, I can only speak for my experience, but Garin Nugroho and Tim Lindsey held a discussion/lecture last year in Darwin where Pak Lindsey mentioned that politicians and society were kinda chasing each other round and round to become more and more conservative. But unpacking that statement is beyond Budhe at the moment.»›

So – a point to think about – how can we tell what’s ‘normal’ for a culture in a film, and what’s done for dramatic or comedic effect? I saw a film called Sabtu Bersama Bapak, in which the sassy office lady marched around the office one day, handing out pods of petai to everyone. I asked a few other cinemagoers if there was any meaning behind someone handing out produce in the office, but no-one had any answers for me. I still don’t know.

Here’s the trailer for Tiga Dara.


The company behind the restoration, SA Films, say they’ll be releasing a DVD soon, and that they’re in discussions for potentially restoring and rereleasing other Indonesian cinematic classics. I really hope they do. I’d love to watch more old classic Indo films – there’s a long history behind them.


¹ heh heh. I found this phrase one day while I was bored and flipping through Old Faithful (Echols/Shadily) 


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