Here is a movie adapted from a best-selling Indonesian novel. It took 40 days of filming on Belitong Island, Bangka-Belitung province, involving 12 local actors, and reportedly cost Rp 8 Billion. With all the efforts of transforming Laskar Pelangi (Rainbow Warrior) into a moving picture, will it satisfy readers' imaginations?
Laskar Pelangi, the novel, was written by Andrea Hirata in 2005, based on the writer's own experiences. It is about an inspiring teacher and her 10 students in the poverty-stricken Kampung Gantong in Belitong. The poor condition of their school building does not dampen their high spirits and hopes for a better future.
Two years later, the novel became a phenomenon in Indonesian literature. With its humanistic touch, Laskar Pelangi has sold more than 500,000 copies and has won the position of Must-Read Novel in every corner of the nation's bookshops and media review pages. It finally overcame the domination of teen-lit, chick-lit and even religious novels, the popular theme of today.
Andrea entrusted the filming of the story to respected figures in the film industry, Mira Lesmana and Riri Reza, as producer and film director, respectively. "Mira and Riri are two people with high integrity in the movie-making industry in Indonesia. I believe they have a unique perspective in creating their work," says Andrea.
Mira, who made a record at the Indonesian box office with teen flick Ada Apa Dengan Cinta and children's adventure movie Petualangan Sherina, says "(After reading the novel) I felt like being slammed and was so ashamed of myself. How could I complain about our movie's poor condition, while far away in Belitong there are 10 children and a teacher whose lives are far worse than mine. But they still dare to have hopes and dreams. They struggle to overcome all obstacles with a smile."
Riri makes a similar comment. "I think the novel is very interesting and it is important it be filmed. Interesting because it consists of many aspects such as educational, social and political issues. It is also important because it has an inspiring effect of hope and not giving up, while living a very hard life."
In July 2007, Mira and Riri started pre-production, which took a year to finish. Together with scriptwriter Salman Aristo they decided to create a different scenario for the film.
"Novels and movies are two different things. Each has its own specialties and limits. It is very natural for the movie to have a slightly different content than the novel," says Riri, who won a Citra film award for his movie Eliana Eliana in 2005.
Mira admits she has no worries about the possibility of negative responses from adapting the novel into a film.
"The film will eventually bring in our audience, whether they have read the book or not, just to relax, enjoy and be ready to be affected by different experiences," she explains.
The film was shot on location on Belitong Island, the setting of the novel. Twelve of the roles were played by local children.
"In my opinion, there won't be any actors with a deeper connection to the roles than those who were born and lived in Belitong their entire life," Riri says to explain his reasons for pursuing authenticity.
Some veteran actors such as Ikranegara, Slamet Rahardjo, Alex Komang, Jajang C Noer, Mathias Muchus and Robbie Tumewu will appear. And there is also fresh blood to satisfy youngsters, such as Tora Sudiro, Rieke Dyah Pitaloka and Cut Mini.
Cut Mini (playing the central character, the teacher Muslimah) admits she found it challenging to play Miss Muslimah, described as a loving, tender, patient and smart fighter. It is simply a character that differs from any other role she has ever taken.
"That's why, when I got the role, I was soooo happy. I kept on practicing and memorizing the script three hours a day and got acting tutoring directly from Riri himself. I also got the chance to meet Miss Muslimah in person, to get to know and learn more of her real character directly," she says, admitting there is also a great expectation from the audience (especially the readers of the book) to see the Miss Muslimah character in the movie.
"I've given my best and I hope the audience can accept it," she adds.
Film is an form of art with a multidimensional influence. It has the ability to influence, move and change point of view, behavior, situation and society. Being aware of the power of film, many of those involved in making the costly Laskar Pelangi are committed to its success.
Behind the scenes Mira and Riri wish the message is accepted by the audience. They hope it will stir the emotions of all those who watch it. "Please don't boast out about how great your country is, when you're still ignoring the education aspect of it," Mira says.
Laskar Pelangi will be released in cinemas on September 25th 2008.