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'Saiyo Sakato': A tasty offering on polygamy, rivalry and family dynamics

Reza Mardian
Reza Mardian

Film enthusiast

Jakarta  /  Thu, April 2, 2020  /  10:49 am
'Saiyo Sakato': A tasty offering on polygamy, rivalry and family dynamics

Promotional poster of 'Saiyo Sakato' ( Indonesia)

In a series of the same name, Saiyo Sakato is the name of a Padang restaurant (more commonly known as rumah makan Padang), and visiting such a place in Minangkabau culture is also a way to resolve conflicts. The premise of a ten-episode family drama starts with a simple question: What would happen if the chef of the restaurant, who secretly has a second wife, dies?

At the beginning of the first episode, Mardiana (Cut Mini) is a mourning matriarch after her husband was found dead due to a heart attack. While she is busy learning to recreate her husband's signature recipes and trying to decide whom--her older daughter or her younger son—to entrust with leading the restaurant, a younger woman comes into her life. Nita (Nirina Zubir) claims that she's also the wife of Mar's late husband, Uda Zul (Lukman Sardi). Alongside her school-age son, she expresses her interest in reconnecting – and in Uda Zul's will. Appalled, Mar bans Nita from the restaurant. 

We then see Nita renting an empty building in front of Mar's Saiyo Sakato to open her own restaurant, bearing the same name and using Uda Zul's recipes. The series explores both restaurants competing in a bid to show which one is the most authentic, ranging from their monthly revenues, Instagram followers and even appearance on a local TV show. Whoever wins can then rightfully use Saiyo Sakato as the restaurant's name.

While the series is about Minangkabau restaurants, the food is never the center of the story, unlike in food films Aruna & Her Palate (2018) and Tabula Rasa (2014). The central story is polygamy and its aftermath. And unlike most Indonesian films on polygamy, Saiyo Sakato does not feature the patriarchal institution on-screen. Nia Dinata's Love for Share (2006) and Riri Riza's Athirah (2016) present men committing polygamy as the antagonist of the story. In Hanung Bramantyo's The Verses of Love (2008), men become the protagonists by showing that they shouldn't engage in polygamy on the basis of sexual desire. Most Indonesian films with a similar theme would show the men, but Saiyo Sakato differs in this department. Positioning the patriarch off-screen enables the series to focus on how the two wives interact after Uda Zul's death.

This is where the element of food strengthens the story, used as a metaphor of obsession. Both Mar and Nita are obsessed with proving why each is the only wife that should carry Uda Zul's legacy. As the creator, showrunner and one of the directors, Gina S. Noer manages to capture how the absence of a polygamist man can perpetuate tension between his two wives. Uda Zul may not be present, but he is what they constantly talk about. The irony is strong in how a man who's not around anymore could inflict damage to his loved ones. With a subtle touch, Gina highlights the power of patriarchy, even over strong female characters who are nurtured in a matriarchal society.

The rivalry between the two wives also triggers unpredictable dynamics. Through a series of competitions, they eventually get to know each other better. Nita, for instance, discovers that the late Uda Zul had millions in debt, and Mar finds out that Nita is willing to pay the debt.

Director and screenwriter Gina is no stranger to family movies. In Keluarga Cemara (2019), Abah (Ringgo Agus Rahman) wants to keep his family happy as their financial situation takes a turn for the worse. In Posesif (2017), Gina explores how a single parent can have an effect on his/her child (Lala being competitive and Yudhis being abusive). While in Two Blue Stripes (2019) Gina tells the story of how two families with different socioeconomic backgrounds might have a similar streak over sex education. In Saiyo Sakato, Gina examines how far Nita and Mar will go to uphold their family's honor.  

The series may sound serious, but it is also light and entertaining with portrayals of unhealthy competition, sibling rivalry and the classic forbidden love. Some characters will make you laugh, and its day-to-day conflicts are those you'd find in real life. Available on GoPlay, Saiyo Sakato is just like a portion of Nasi Padang (Minang-style rice with side dishes) that you can't resist. (wng)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.