Hanny R. Saputra, previously known for Virgin (2004) and Heart (2006), has released his tenth feature film — Di Bawah Lindungan Ka’bah (Under Protection of the Kaaba), an adaptation of Indonesian novel of the same title by Hamka.
In the film, Herjunot Ali plays Hamid, a heavy-burdened spirit who falls in love with Zainab (Laudya Cynthia Bella), the daughter of Engku Jafar (Didi Petet), a village tycoon and the boss of Hamid and his mother.
Di Bawah Lindungan Ka’bah was previously adapted for the screen by the late Asrul Sani as Para Perintis Kemerdekaan (Independence Day Pioneers) in 1977.
Both films differ from the source novel, encompassing dramatically different narrative visions and modes of storytelling. Hanny’s adaptation, however, uses only the novel’s opening and closing.
The film begins in Padang, West Sumatra, in the early years of the 20th century. Hamid and Zainab have just graduated from a junior high school run by Dutch government and face dramatically different futures.
Hamid must seek work or more education. Meanwhile, for Zainab, receiving a diploma has closed, not opened doors. As happened to many educated woman during that period, the end of school led to virtual incarceration at home. Zainab withdraws from the world, waiting for a “qualified” suitor to marry her.
In Hamka’s novel, the feelings between Hamid and Zainab never physically materialize. Hamka relied on the longings between two lovers. Hamid chooses to move to Mecca rather than mourning after seeing Zainab marry another man.
Asrul’s version used Hamid and Zainab’s relationship as a way to portray the emerging revolutionary struggle for a nation free of Dutch colonialism – which is not surprising, considering Asrul helmed the masterful Indpendence War epic, Pagar Kawat Berduri (Barbed Wire Fence).
Islam, Indonesia and politics were inseparable in Asrul’s adaptation. Asrul’s protagonist runs a leftist magazine called Menara. The film features a compelling scene depicting soldiers arresting a teacher at a mosque as he preaches on the nature of being Indonesian.
In another memorable scene, Zainab (played by dangdut diva Camelia Malik) shouts: “Loving your country is half of your religion!”
Asrul genuinely tried to tap to the essence of Hamka’s vision. Both developed stories that used religion to end colonialism. However in Hanny’s 2011 version, cute setups are the rule. One scene depicts Hamid and Zainab whispering to each on opposite sides of a wooden fence – a staple of the teen romance drama. Gone are considerations of religion, politics, revolution and Indonesia that were in the novel and Asrul’s adaptation.
Hanny’s attention to historical detail in the period piece is wanting. In one startling scene, Engku Jafar is shown sitting on a couch and eating a snack that was only released in 2000s. That scene is followed by a close-up shot of mosquito repellent. Hamid is also shown buying a popular peanut snack that was most definitely not available in Padang before the reform era began, or even before Independence.
The lack of attention to historical accuracy — the aforementioned snacks appear with jarring results multiple times — calls into question why the movie was made.
Instead of expanding on Hamka’s and Asrul’s visions, Di Bawah Lindungan Ka’bah is the latest in a series of pop Islamic romance movies that emerged after Hanung Bramyanto’s blockbuster Ayat-ayat Cinta (Verses of Love).
In Di Bawah Lindungan Ka’bah, Hamid is no longer depicted as second-rate or struggling. Hamid is now an eloquent debater, a swimming champion and a devoted lover. This depiction dovetails with Hanung Bramantyo’s hero in Ayat-ayat Cinta and with Chaerul Umam’s Ketika Cinta Bertasbih (When Love Worships, 2009).
Almost three-quarters of the new film is the improvisation of scriptwriters Titien Wattimena and Armantono, who focus on the characters’ romance and the expense of the novel’s content.
The film introduces bland characters that were not present in the novel, giving the film the feel of a dull soap opera that is full of predictable problems and resolutions.
Di Bawah Lindungan Ka’bah is not an inherently bad movie. All adaptations struggle to capture the spirit of their own age while preserving the essence of the source material.
However, Hamka’s work was published at the era of Pujangga Baru literary movement, which was deeply characterized by feminism and post-colonialism symptoms. Asrul Sani’s decision to adapt the novel as Para Perintis Kemerdekaan was a response to the authoritarian rule of the new order.
Maybe our era is an apolitical time ripe for ahistorical fiction. Maybe it is simply a time for inept films like this one. Only time will tell.
Verdict: A neglectful film. The only solid character is Padang, the city where the story begins.
Di Bawah Lindungan Ka’bah (Under Protection of the Kaaba, 121 minutes, MD Entertainment)
Starring: Herjunot Ali, Laudya Cynthia Bella, Didi Petet, Niken Anjani, Jenny Rachman, Widyawati Sophiaan, Leroy Osmani, Tarra Budiman, Ajun Perwira, Akhmad Setyadi.
Directed: Hanny R. Saputra
Written: Titien Wattimena and Armantono
Produced: Shania Punjabi, Muslich Widjaya, Hendrayadi, Manoj Punjabi, Dhamoo Punjabi