'Keluarga Cemara' director Yandy Laurens, left, and actor Ringgo Agus Rahman at a press conference for the new film at Plaza Indonesia XXI in Central Jakarta on Tuesday (13/11). (Photo courtesy of Jogja-Netpac Asian Film Festival)

'Keluarga Cemara': Modern Poor Family


NOVEMBER 15, 2018

Jakarta. Most Indonesians growing up in the 1990s must have watched at least an episode of sentimental TV drama "Keluarga Cemara" ("Cemara’s Family") – and shed more than a few tears while doing so.

The tearjerker series ran from 1996 to 2004, telling the harrowing story of an ideal family – Cemara is the name of the middle child out of three female siblings – who kept their chin up despite abject poverty.

The TV series has now been adapted into a film by Visinema Pictures, with an updated present-day setting.

"We did consider leaving the setting as it was, but then we wanted to test if the values of that era are still relevant to us today," producer Anggia Kharisma said after a preview screening at Plaza Indonesia XXI in Central Jakarta on Tuesday (13/11).

Thankfully, the producers didn't just change the characters' wardrobes, but also the social panorama of the story.

Eldest daughter Euis (played by idol group JKT48 member Adhisty Zara), for example, is no longer a modest, soft-spoken girl.

She is now a typical bratty teenage girl from Jakarta who code-switches between English and Indonesian as she speaks – an "anak Jaksel" ("South Jakarta kid") to use the popular pejorative term.

Euis is also constantly on her phone checking updates on social media and chatting with her friends.

The digital world also became a source of rifts between the characters.

"Some things have become very banal in this digital age. We say a lot of people are our 'bffs,' but what does that really mean? Is the family still as important to us now?" co-producer and one of the scriptwriters, Gina S. Noer, said.

Gina said some parts of the movie were also inspired by the filmmakers' real-life experiences.

Director and scriptwriter Yandy Laurens said Keluarga Cemara's original creator Arswendo Atmowiloto gave the filmmakers permission to chop and change his story.

"He said, 'Keluarga Cemara was like my baby. I've raised her and now she's grown up and about to get married. What happens after that is no longer my business.' Arswendo only asked that we keep some of the nostalgic elements, such as the becak [pedicab]," Yandy said.

In the original Keluarga Cemara story, Abah (the father character, played by Adi Kurdi) was a poor becak driver who had to work extra hard to support his family.

The new Abah has a different job, but the pedicab still makes an appearance in the family's life.

The film is not actually a straight remake of the TV series, but a prequel.

Modern audience will be able to see how the family got on before they became poor.

We will see Abah's struggles before he turned into the wise old man we know and love.

We will also see Euis struggling with her own vanity to accept that her family has lost all their money.

"Actually, the new characters are not that different, if you look closer at the original series. The old Abah could be harsh too, and Euis could be very stubborn. We want to show how these characters transform. Being suddenly poor forces them to learn new things," Yandy said.

Surprisingly, the original third and youngest sister Agil did not appear in the film's poster or trailer.

"Three siblings are too much this time. Having only two makes the relationships in this family more intimate," Yandy said.

The original TV series theme song, "Harta Berharga" ("Keepsakes"), made it through to the film version relatively unscathed. Original singer Novia Kolopaking's dulcet vocals had to make way for Bunga Citra Lestari's more nasal tones.

Anggia said the main theme of the film hasn't moved far from the original TV series: "[Lack of] money doesn’t change people, it merely allows their true selves to come out."

Ringgo Agus Rahman, the actor who plays Abah in the film, said, "At your lowest point, your family will be there for you. That's why families, like Cemara's, have to stay together."

Keluarga Cemara will be officially released in cinemas on Jan. 3, but special screenings will be held during the Jogja-Netpac Asian Film Festival on Nov. 27-Dec. 4.