Director Mouly Surya and producer Rama Adi from Cinesurya Pictures, who will adapt Mochtar Lubis's 'Jalan Tak Ada Ujung' ('A Road With No End') for the big screen. (Photo courtesy of Cinesurya Pictures)

Mouly Surya to Bring Mochtar Lubis's Book to the Big Screen


SEPTEMBER 19, 2018

Jakarta. Mouly Surya, director of "Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts," announced on Sept. 13 that she is making a film adaptation of "Jalan Tak Ada Ujung," a novel by renowned Indonesian author and journalist Mochtar Lubis.

The novel, published by Balai Pustaka in 1952, tells the story of the early years of Indonesia's independence, when at the end of World War II, the country's people had to fight the Allied forces, including the Dutch, to prevent them from re-establishing colonial rule over the archipelago.

A teacher named Isa is the protagonist. He is a cowardly man suffering from erectile dysfunction, which affects his marriage to Fatimah. Then his younger friend Hazil invites him to join an organization to fight the colonizers, leading Isa to deal with the crippling fear he has in his life.

The critically acclaimed novel won a literary prize from the Consultative Body for National Culture (BMKN) in 1953 and it was translated into English with the title "A Road With No End" by A. H. Johns in 1968.

Mouly, who has a bachelor's degree in English literature and calls herself an avid reader, said she came across a physical copy Mochtar's book.

"When I read the first chapter, I just fell in love instantly with Mochtar's prose. I could already imagine how it would look as a film," Mouly said during the Indonesia International Book Fair at the Jakarta Convention Center in Senayan.

She added that she did not choose Mochtar's work because of his popularity in Indonesian literature, but simply because she was mesmerized by how the book portrayed history.

"The concept of a 'nation' was complicated at the time. We had declared our independence, yet we weren't exactly independent. There were plenty of British and Dutch troops to face… When I read this, I could relate to the story. We have nationalism everywhere in the world but what everybody wants is only to survive. The hero, or the main character, is relatable because of how fearful he is," Mouly said.

Cinesurya Pictures will make the film with Rama Adi and Fauzan Zidni as the producers. Rama, who is also Mouly's husband, will co-write the script.

Kartini Nurdin, general manager of the Indonesia Torch Library Foundation (YPOI), which has been reprinting the book since 1992, said her company was delighted when Mouly and her team wanted to make a film of the book because they represented the younger generation and Kartini thought film would be the perfect way for Mochtar's book to reach this generation.

Kartini said the book contains messages of virtue and love for the nation and remains a best-seller alongside one of Mochtar's other novels, "Harimau! Harimau" ("Tiger!").

"At least 1,000 copies [of 'Jalan Tak Ada Ujung'] are sold each year. Hopefully, when the film is released, it will be more popular and read by young people," Kartini said.

Given the book's high standing, Mouly said she does not worry about disappointing the book's fans because she does not "treat the book as the scenario."

"I want to film my interpretation of Mochtar's prose. Watching the film won't replace the experience of reading the book. The book and film can stand side by side because they can show different, yet equally interesting, perspectives on the same character," Mouly said.

Still, she recommended that people read the late author's masterpiece.

"I want many people to read this book because this is so good. It's a prominent work because I found that almost everybody is actually familiar with it," she said.

Long Journey Ahead

Mouly and Rama are focusing on researching the history and script development this year. Production is expected to start next year and the film is slated for release in 2020.

Mouly has long intervals between her films. Before last year's "Marlina," there was "What They Don't Talk About When They Talk About Love," released in 2013, after Mouly's first film, "Fiksi" ("Fiction"), launched in 2008.

"I need to take time. I don't want to shoot a film at the first draft of the script. Story development is crucial, though in this case, we can say that the story is already there and we just have to transfer it to a different medium. But what works in audiovisual and writing are different… It's set in 1946 anyway, so hopefully it's understandable for us to take time," Mouly said.

Cinesurya has decided to partner with Go-Studio, the film-production arm of ride-hailing firm Go-Jek, on this project. Go-Studio has been involved in co-producing recent films such as Riri Riza's "Kulari ke Pantai" ("I Run to the Beach") and Garin Nugroho's "Kucumbu Tubuh Indahku" ("Memories of My Body").

Alexander Siregar, vice president of acquisitions at Go-Studio, told reporters that the company is happy to work with Cinesurya because of the story quality and values reflected in the film.

However, Go-Studio will not be the only partner.

"Go-Studio is our main partner, but we are open for partnerships with other companies from Indonesia, or the United States, or Europe. We worked with France before [on 'Marlina'] and now we're actually eyeing the US," Rama said.