It did not take long for former journalist Ahmad Fuadi’s semi-biographical novel Negeri 5 Menara (The Land of Five Towers) to become a best-selling work of fiction.
The novel, which carries a famous mantra man jadda wajada – an Arabic saying which roughly means “whoever does something persistently will succeed”, won the hearts of many bookworms with its positive messages of strong friendship, family ties and unrelenting hard work.
Negeri 5 Menara or N5M is the first book in a literary trilogy. It has been reprinted 12 times, sold more than 200,000 copies across the country and translated to English.
Ahmad has launched the second installment titled Ranah 3 Warna (The Domain of 3 Colors) and is currently working on the third book in the series.
The fame of N5M attracted a Malaysian publishing company to buy the copyrights of the first two books. N5M has been adapted into a screenplay, and released in Malay.
N5M follows the story of Alif, played by newcomer Gazza Zubizareta, a teenage boy who hails from a hamlet close to West Sumatra’s Maninjau Lake and yearns to study at the Institute of Technology Bandung (ITB) just like his idol BJ Habibie, a prominent Indonesian engineer who became one of the country’s presidents.
Alif, however, has to cast away his dream since his mother, whom he calls “Mamak” (starred by Lulu Tobing), wants to send him away to Madani Islamic boarding school in Ponorogo, East Java right after he graduates from junior high school in the hopes that he would follow in the footsteps of local heroes like economist Mohammad Hatta and cleric Buya Hamka.
Beyond his expectations, Alif arrives at the school and is shocked to finding a series of strict rules and curfews imposed by the school management.
A period of detention for breaking the rules brings the heart-broken Alif closer to his five roommates, who come from different parts of Indonesia – Baso (Billy Sandy) of South Sulawesi’s Gowa, Atang (Rizki Ramdani) of West Java’s Bandung, Raja (Jiofani Lubis) of North Sumatra’s Medan, Said (Ernest Samudera) of East Java’s Surabaya, and Dulmajid (Aris Putra) of Madura, East Java.
The six boys spend their time together beneath a mosque tower, admiring its shape, while gazing at the blue sky above, daydreaming about traveling overseas, from Asia to Europe and the US. They even pledge to conquer the far-off lands and return to the same place beneath the tower one day.
Still harboring some doubts about his new school, Alif meets a teacher named Salman (Donny Alamsyah), who introduces him and his schoolmates to the mantra: man jadda wajada (whoever does something persistently will succeed).
The words touch Alif’s heart, awaking within him a desire to reach for his dreams and make his parents proud.
The film highlights the dilemmas faced by Alif as he struggles to adapt to his new religious school, new friends, new aspects of family connections all under a context of an uncertain future.
The director, Affandi Abdul Rachman, blends dramatic scenes with humor and a touch of teenage romance.
Affandi could not have been happier his production team was granted a permission to shoot the film at one of the most famous Islamic boarding schools in the country, Pondok Pesantren Gontor, which serves as the story’s backdrop.
Affandi, the director of the psychological thriller The Perfect House starring Kathy Sharon and Bella Esperance, filmed the real hustle and bustle of the Islamic school during last year’s fasting month of Ramadan.
In N5M, he captures student life in a religious school from A-to-Z, giving new insights for outsiders on the bittersweet life in a boarding school.
The six boys, played by new faces in the country’s movie scene, deliver fine performances.
Baso is one of the most enjoyable characters to watch. His happy-go-lucky, innocent attitude often delivers quality laughs, while his concern for others provides for touching and inspiring dialogue.
Senior actor and rock star Ikang Fawzi steals attention as the head of Madani School, Kyai Rais, who is known for his teachings, straightforward manner, integrity, and loyalty to his school as well as his witty jokes.
The film also marks Lulu Tobing’s first performance in a production since she married late president Soeharto’s grandson Danny Rukmana in 2006.
Hopefully, the other two novels in the series will be brought into the silver screen as well.
Verdict: An inspiring film for youngsters to work hard and reach for their dreams.
Negeri Lima Menara
(120 minutes, Million Pictures)
Starring: Gazza Zubizareta, Billy Sandy, Ernest Samudera, Rizki Ramdani, Ikang Fawzi, Donny Alamsyah, David Chalik, Lulu Tobing, Andhika Pratama
Director: Affandi Abdul Rachman
Writer: Salman Aristo
Producer: Aoura Lovenson Chandra, Dinna Jasanti, Salman Aristo