Nada Untuk Asa: Us Against the World

This inspiring story of a HIV-positive mother and her infected daughter fighting false assumptions and stigmas has affected me since the book first came out.I bought the book back at church. I was gonna buy it because its profits are going for underprivileged patients, so, it was initially only a form of donation, really. The book’s just an extra. But eventually, I read it while my parents tread the traffic of Jakarta (sorry, mom!), and the story came to my eyes.

The book was super, SUPER cheesy. There are two storylines in the book – Nada, the mother, after her HIV-positive revelation, and Asa, the daughter, and her life as a young adult in Jakarta. Nada’s storyline is a sobfest – mainly because it deals with the outdated 80s stigma of HIV-positive people getting HIV through free sex, a.k.a. not keeping the holiness of the body, stuff like that. Reminds you of Dallas Buyers Club. You know, that part. Ron Woodruff cries inside a car, thinking that the Dallas cowboy community that was once so close to him has shunned him because of him being HIV-positive and accuses him of being a “faggot”. Same goes for Nada here – her family and community was very unknowledgeable about AIDS (at some point where they thought the illness can spread through speaking through the phone!) and shunned her from young family members. While Asa’s storyline presents an urban world viewed through a HIV-positive woman’s eyes, and her uncertainty of the community’s acceptance towards her, maybe affected through her mother’s past.

I watched the film with 750 fellow students from my school. Since the film is partly funded by the Catholic church, our screening is perhaps an attempt to push the sales of this film and keep this film in theatres. Yeah, they’re really doing that. Like the last time when Soegija enters cinemas (although the film’s pretty good – it’s one of the most detailed, historically accurate Indonesian films I’ve ever seen. Most period films sacrifices historical consistency just for the sake of product placement, nudge nudge Habibie & Ainun). One question pops in my mind, though: why can’t we make watching films a sole method in our curriculum? Science students can watch Interstellar, as the topic of relativity is introduced in the 12th grade. Social students has more options, for example, Pride or Selma for displays of civil rights movements. And, the cinema is just a 1k walk from our school!

Anyway, back to the movie. There are several differences between the movie from the book. Some of the alterations omit the important scenes, but it does not necessarily affect the movie. Nada’s and Asa’s storyline in the book is presented separately, while the film presents both storylines in one run, with Nada’s storyline converted into flashback scenes. I think this is Charles Gozali’s smart move, because by presenting these storylines together, viewers can highlight the similarity of the struggle of the two women, even though it’s presented in two different “worlds”. Also, it makes the overall plot less cheesy and more entertaining when put into film format.

Artistically? I love the music. Music, so far, has been Indonesian cinema’s greatest strength. From mindblowing historical epics like Soegija, frightening psychological thrillers like Modus Anomali, to heartfelt comedies like Malam Minggu Miko Movie (the best Raditya Dika movie to date, imho)! The score in this movie never fail to disappoint me. The cinematography reminds me of television soap operas, tho, their aesthetics should be pumped up to cinematic levels. Nada’s ageing makeup is atrocious, but again, this is not Hollywood.

Is it convincing? Too convincing. The actors are familiar to my ears. I’ve always loved Marsha Timothy since her portrayal of the “perfect wife” in Pintu Terlarang (my favorite Indonesian movie!) and some more stints in Joko Anwar’s works. And, every Indonesian sure knows Acha Septriasa and Darius Sinathrya. Their take on the melodramatic script can deliver emotions to the viewers. Asa is such an interesting character, and I love how Acha Septriasa delivers Asa’s quirky, tomboy persona. Nada and Asa are two female characters with lots of substance and personality, and it’s a great way for them to make them real.

And my last thing to discuss – is this film feminist friendly? The book itself was written by Ita Sembiring, and it is written through a woman’s perspective. The film portrays two wonderful independent woman who does not need a man! Asa’s relationship with an AIDS activist is portrayed not in the tone of “I need you to stay forever with me”, but more like “I need you to be my friend and to work alongside me.” Although Asa’s plotline is based on her relationship with the activist, but Asa is portrayed as a strong-willed woman, and she’s depicted as an individual, not just as a mere member of a relationship. Nada’s storyline seems very cheesy and very un-independent initially, but her character progression shows how she evolve and rise from the state of grief. (But once again, she’s helped by others.) I think Nada’s personality is underdeveloped, and the film could’ve been done better when directed through the lens of a woman.

In conclusion, even though this film’s not perfect, you should watch it! It’s not a common sight for you to see a movie in cinemas with two independent woman as the main characters. You can wash off your testosterone-laden awards season bingewatch with this poignant, yet uplifting movie.


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