I suddenly feel an urge to resuscitate my sleeping blog just to talk about being ordinary. By and large, I love the ordinary, the identifiable, the average much more than melodrama. Eg. I would pick a story about someone who meets an unexpected soulmate in a cafe over a story where two people were cruelly separated by evil step-parents and one of them ran into a pole, got amnesia and forgot his one true love.
But there can be such a thing as too ordinary. Like 3 Doa, 3 Cinta. (trans. 3 Wishes, 3 Loves)
Title: 3 Doa 3 Cinta (2008)
Synopsis: Huda (that’s a man’s name, btw) and his two close friends, Rian and Syahid were senior students in a pesantren (Islamic religious boarding school). The pesantren is run by a kiyai who is respectful to other religions but some crazy hardliners had set up camp down the road, attracting some students. As the school year draws to a close, each started seeking to break their own path, based on their respective interests. For Huda, this meant a quest with a sexy dangdut singer to find his mother who had left him at the pesantren 6 years ago and never came back. For Rian, this meant sneaking out at night to secretly develop knowledge to make films (since media equipment is forbidden in the school). For Syahid, this involved running with the crazy hardliners to look for a martyrdom that can subsume his problems with his dying father.
This story is squarely in the “coming-of-age” genre where one would expect both exploration and heart-warming growth. The narrative takes a turn towards the remarkable by focusing on the terrorism arc in the last half hour of the film but by and large, it was a pleasant portrait of ordinary human-ness in an space too often associated with irrational violence. The film succeeds in its raison d’etre; its director and screenwriter, Nurman Hakim was pesantren-educated and this was his response to the increased police surveillance on innocuous religious schools. It is at its best in celebrating the ordinariness of pesantren life; falling asleep during prayers, checking out girls through peepholes, town fairs with dangdut singers, an ustadz’s comical efforts to impregnate his wife, sleeping on the floor without a mattress or much personal space. The cameraman has a mildly irritating habit of letting the camera frame stay on an archway, while characters come and go, leaving quite a bit of dead time in between. Still, in general, the film didn’t feel overly long.
But for as a story that is driven by 3 ‘loves’, passion in each of 3 characters’ quest was remarkably absent.
[Warning: Spoilers ahead]
Syahid was easily deterred from volunteering for a suicide mission once some white guy inexplicably paid his dad’s hospital bills. (Does he have to be white, btw? Is this a metaphor for aid by foreign agencies). While his reasons for wanting to learn to make films were poignant, Rian lent his handycam to other people more often than he used it himself, so, you can’t really tell whether he is really into the whole thing or not. And Huda… he is the most persistent but the most disappointing of all. He spent half the movie observing, seeking help from and hanging out with a dangdut singer, played by Dian Sastrowidoyo. Nicholas Saputra and Dian Sastro have great chemistry – more muted here than in their previous hit Ada Apa Dengan Cinta – but palpable nonetheless. You can feel the stakes building up; is he going to throw away his respectability as a santri and choose an unsuitable girl over his kiyai’s daughter?
And then, that thread just went nowhere. Huda finds that his mother had died, dropped his inappropriate relationship without much fanfare and went on to marry the kiyai’s daughter after all. That’s very normal. But I would have liked to know how both of them felt about it. Their struggles and their difficulties Why bother building up the chemistry if he was just using her to get his letter delivered? What was the point of the whole thing? And then, there was a side plot about Rian’s interest in the kiyai’s daughter which went nowhere too. And if I were the kiyai’s daughter, I would really give the other guy a chance. Even though Huda is better looking, it is quite obvious that he is more obligated than interested. But at the end of the film, she married him, as everyone wanted them to and Rian was happily video-taping the wedding and you just think…Whhhhaaat? Why do you hint at feelings that are too shallow to go anywhere, Show?
I know a lot of people prefer placidity over unruly emotions. I do myself, most of the time. But a coming-of-age story should be one that deals with the difficulty in navigating these emotions as you are growing up and learning something from the experience. And its only with passion that you accomplish anything worthwhile. In drawing a counterpoint to the hyper-masculine, hyper-emotional, hyper-irrational stereotype of Islamic terrorist, the story sucked the passion out of all 3 ‘loves’. Instead of coming across as a force for tolerance, respect and general goodness, the character become non-entities who don’t really stand for anything. Pleasant non-entities, to be sure. Nice, definitely. There is active ‘nice’ and a passive ‘nice’ and this is clearly the latter.
So, if the film’s motivating rationale is to depict how pesantrens can be a force for good, then I rather think it has failed. Its about how ordinary, nice people grow up.
But they don’t change the world. Sadly.
Postscript: Of course, all this is subjective. There are people who loved it. Like this review.