'Aruna dan Lidahnya' director Edwin, actress Dian Sastrowardoyo who plays Aruna, and actor Oka Antara who plays Farish, posing for a photo during a visit to the Jakarta Globe's offices on Wednesday (15/08). (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)

'Aruna dan Lidahnya': More Than Just Food-Tasting


SEPTEMBER 20, 2018

Jakarta. Based on the trailer launched last week, the film adaptation of Laksmi Pamuntjak's novel "Aruna dan Lidahnya" ("The Birdwoman's Palate") is all about pleasing viewers with mouthwatering sights of Indonesian cuisine, the film's director Edwin as well as the cast promised the story to be more than just food-tasting.

During a visit to the Jakarta Globe's offices on Wednesday (15/08), the auteur said food was indeed what lured him to adapting the book in the first place, after reading Laksmi's "Jakarta Good Food Guide."

"I was fascinated by the dishes in the book, such as pengkang [glutinous rice cakes filled with ebi or dried shrimp] and mie kepiting [crab noodles] in Pontianak [West Kalimantan], which are very famous. Filming it would be the perfect excuse for me to go around tasting the dishes," he said.

He added that the book is not just about food, but also corruption, friendship, and love. However, compared to his previous, independent movies, this is much less serious in substance.


"I'd wanted to make a talky movie, a simple movie about people hanging out and having conversations," the director said.

He read it when it was launched in late 2014 and then approached Laksmi soon after, as she previously said in a recent interview. But he then put the idea on hold because he was making another film, "Posesif" ("Possessive") at the time.

He then went on to adapt Eka Kurniawan's novel "Seperti Dendam, Rindu Harus Dibayar Tuntas" ("Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash") for the big screen, but the project has been postponed due to financing reasons.

"Palari had to make something this year, so then came the idea to look back at this…The reason I love this book is because it can fit into many possible genres. It can be a comedy, road movie, drama, or even detective movie. I like exploring those possibilities," he said.

'Aruna dan Lidahnya' is one of Edwin's less serious works, compared with 'Postcards From the Zoo' and 'Blind Pig That Wants to Fly.' (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)

Role of Food

We should expect to see 21 types of dishes, including snacks, presented in four cities – originally 10 in the book. Among the dishes are lorjuk (razor clams) from Pamekasan and nasi cumi (rice served with squid and its ink) in Surabaya, both in East Java.

Edwin said each dish invites people to remember not just its taste, but also the experience of eating it. Also, it is not only served for its visual appeal, but has a function to represent the characters' emotions or thoughts, especially Aruna's.

Dian Sastrowardoyo, who plays Aruna, gave the example of when her character eats rujak soto in Surabaya. Rujak, a sweet-and-sour salad made of fruits and vegetables, and soto (soup) are not normally paired. Aruna eats this while thinking about two people who are not meant to be together.

"She doesn't see the point of forcing rujak and soto to mix. She thinks if we mix the two, one is going to ruin the taste of the other, or something like rujak's presence is wrong. It's supposed to be just soto alone. Why bother having rujak in the first place? Just have a regular soto," Dian said.

Food in the book and the movie functions as a social lubricant. This applies to Farish, a veterinarian who used to be Aruna's office mate, to whom food brings a turning point. According to Oka Antara, the actor who plays Farish, his character is ambitious and does not take time to relax.

"Then he meets his former co-worker Aruna and she happens to bring her friends, a chef and a food critic. It's as if there's no way out for Farish to not follow their lifestyle. Food drags Farish to slow down and enjoy life," Oka said.

Oka Antara talks about his character, Farish, the non-foodie workaholic. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)

To also quote Laksmi, "food codifies and conceals all manners of human behavior," which can been seen through the four characters' friendship dynamics.

"The friendship of people who are in their thirties is different from that of adolescents. What they discuss is more contemplative – about life, whether it's important to have a romantic partner, and what you try to achieve in your career. A mid-life crisis, if you will. Whether you are in the point you want in your life. That dynamics are really interesting to be delivered through acting. Each character has that level of depth and maturity," 36-year-old Dian said.

Making the Movie Believable

Dian and Oka said one of the challenges of eating on screen was always making themselves look like they enjoy the food.

"We were full, yet we had to look hungry, to look as if the food was that good. It started off as delicious, yet not so much after some takes. But acting is about using your imagination," Dian said.

In the case of Dian, who starred in the franchise "Ada Apa Dengan Cinta?" ("What's Up With Love?") and "Kartini," playing Aruna is not much of a stretch. Dian is a foodie in real life and owns a restaurant called MAM by 3 Skinny Minnies.

"In terms of enjoying food, Aruna and I are quite similar. I have to relish the food. I can't eat just to continue living. I must enjoy the experience. If we can't enjoy it then it's a waste of our daily calorie intake," Dian said.

Dian Sastrowardoyo shares Aruna's intimate relationship with food, yet not her self-consciousness. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)

What sets the two apart is their confidence. While Dian in real life "has a consistent way of speaking up her mind," Aruna is reserved.

"She's not so expressive. She's shy. She doesn't dare speaking up and expressing herself so she keeps it all bottled up and it overloads her subconscious. She likes to wrestle with her own dreams and fantasies…. Her imagination is so creative.

Plus, she's single, so she has all the time in the world to handle her imagination," Dian said.

Meanwhile, Oka said he and his character are different, yet he could still find him relatable.

"He's not a foodie and I am. He's in his 30s, yet still unmarried, but I've always been lucky in love," the 37-year-old married Oka said, jokingly.

"Aruna dan Lidahnya" will premiere on Sept. 27. The book was reprinted earlier this month with the movie's teaser poster as cover.