Dian Sastrowardoyo, Hannah Al-Rashid and Nicholas Saputra at a media gathering for new foodie drama 'Aruna dan Lidahnya' ('The Birdwoman's Palate') in South Jakarta on Thursday (31/05). (Photo courtesy of Palari Films)

Edwin Serves Up Foodie Drama 'The Birdwoman's Palate'

JUNE 07, 2018

Jakarta. After an unexpected success at the box office last year with teen drama "Posesif," award-winning auteur Edwin, better known for his festival-friendly avant-garde films ("Blind Pig Who Wants to Fly," "Postcards From the Zoo"), returns to the silver screen with another mainstream drama fare, an adaptation of Laksmi Pamuntjak's "foodie novel" "Aruna dan Lidahnya" ("Aruna and Her Palate"). The film version, whose English title will be "The Birdwoman's Palate," is scheduled to hit Indonesian cinemas at the end of September.

"It’s a drama with many spices," Edwin said about the film during a media gathering in South Jakarta on Thursday (31/05).

Laksmi’s best-selling novel, according to the blurb on the author's site, merges "insights on food, local history, religion and Indonesian politics."

The author is also famous for writing the legendary Jakarta Good Food Guide, first published in 2001 and now in its fifth iteration.

Like the book, the film adaptation is centered around the figure of Aruna (Dian Sastrowardoyo), a single woman in her mid-30s and an epidemiologist specializing in Avian Flu, but whose real passion is food.

Aruna embarks on a journey across the archipelago to research the deadly disease taking along her best friends Nadezhda (Hannah Al-Rashid), Bono (Nicholas Saputra) and Farish (Oka Antara). Along the way, they also ended up doing research into Indonesia's culinary treasures.

"This is more than just a film about food, though," Edwin said. "It's also about the complex relationships the characters have with food in this country. Everything will be revealed in the conversations they have around the dinner table."

He said local audiences will easily relate to many scenes in the movie.

"We all love to have a chat while eating delicious, comforting food. It’s what we do. Food brings us closer together and this movie will reflect that tradition," Edwin said.

Aruna dan Lidahnya will be the second collaboration between Edwin and producer Meiske Taurisia for Palari Films, after their debut Posesif last year.

However, the duo have been long-time collaborators and have produced several movies together, including "Babi Buta Yang Ingin Terbang" ("Blind Pig Who Wants to Fly"), "Kebun Binatang" ("Postcards From The Zoo"), "Hulahoop", "Someone’s Wife in the Boat of Someone’s Husband" and "Trip to the Wound."

The script is by Titien Wattimena ("Mengejar Matahari" ("Chasing the Sun"), Kebun Binatang, "Hujan Bulan Juni" ("Rain in June" – also a novel adaptation)).

Before he started work on Aruna dan Lidahnya, Edwin had already planned to make another novel adaptation, "Seperti Rindu, Dendam Harus Dibalas Tuntas" ("Love and Revenge"), based on Eka Kurniawan's novel of the same title, but that has now been postponed.

"I still need to make some adjustment to the movie and hope to finish it soon. Meanwhile, I hope people will enjoy Aruna," Edwin said.

Nicsap and Dian Sastro Again, But No Romance This Time

Though Aruna will feature the familiar faces of Nicholas Saputra and Dian Sastrowardoyo, famous for playing lovebirds Rangga and Cinta in the 2002 teen classic "Ada Apa Dengan Cinta" ("What’s Up With Love?" or AADC) and its 2016 sequel, this time there will be no romance between them.

Nicholas will play Bono, a charming chef and Aruna’s best friend who shares her obsession with food.

"This is going to be the first movie where we can show our true friendship after playing as couples for AADC 1 and 2, and 3 Doa 3 Cinta [Pesantren: 3 Wishes, 3 Loves]," Dian said.

Both Dian and Nicholas said they had no problem adjusting to their new characters.

Dian, who runs a restaurant called MAM by 3 Skinny Minnies, says her business helps her to understand and appreciate food.

"I have a good relationship with food. I love trying new dishes. My love for food helps me understand my character in the movie," Dian said.

Nicholas echoed Dian’s passion for food. The award-winning actor, also known as an avid traveler and a passionate amateur cook, said he hopes to share his passions for both in the movie.

Edwin also gave hints that a few celebrity chefs will make cameo appearances in the movie.

Character Makeovers

In the novel, food-loving Aruna and Bono are described as "plump." Svelte Dian and fit Nicholas are totally the opposite of plump.

Producer Meiske said these changes are part of her interpretation of the book.

"[But] we haven’t strayed too far [from the book]. There might be some conflicts and other details that won't make it to the movie. [That's because] we want to give it a fresh touch," she said.

Aruna dan Lidahnya is not the first local film whose plot is tied up with Indonesian food.

Adriyanto Dewo's "Tabula Rasa," released in 2014, tells the story of "anak rantau" ("diaspora") Hans (Jimmy Kobogau), a Papuan who moves to Jakarta to become a professional footballer but ends up working as a cook in a Padang restaurant.

The film features mouth-watering food shots meant to also teach the audience about the philosophy behind spicy Padang dishes. In some screenings, audiences were served with signature Padang menus such as beef rendang and curries.

Aruna dan Lidahnya will also have cinematic shots of delicious traditional food from across the archipelago, but Edwin said he's chosen to highlight rarely seen Indonesian dishes.

"There will be quite a few rare dishes in the movie. We've chosen some dishes that maybe not many people have even heard," he said.

Edwin said he traveled to Surabaya (East Java), Pamekasan in Madura (East Java) and Pontianak and Singkawang in West Kalimantan to do his food research for this movie.

"Originally, the book features food from 10 cities but we found the food from the cities we visited was already quite diverse. Some of the food we found there are quite similar to the food in the cities we didn't end up visiting," Edwin said.