BY LISA SIREGAR(THE JAKARTA GLOBE)
Jakarta, TAG – With religiously themed films having done good business in Indonesia in recent years, it could hardly be a surprise that more producers are looking to cash in on the trend.
The latest entry is “Hafalan Shalat Delisa” (“Delisa’s Recitation”), which opens in Desember 22 last year, just in time for Indonesian Mother’s Day, and also near the seven-year anniversary of the Boxing Day tsunami that devastated Aceh.
“Delisa” is a adapted from a novel by Tere Liye, who has written several books including “Bidadari-Bidadari Surga” (“Heaven’s Angels”) and “Moga Bunda Disayang Allah” (“May Allah Love Mother”).
“Delisa” explores the importance of faith, especially in the face of adversity. The story centers on the Usmans, a religious family in Lhoknga, Aceh, affected by the tsunami. Delisa (Chantiq Schagerl) is the youngest in the family, and her father (Reza Rahadian) works on a cruise ship so he is away most of the time. But his four daughters can always count on their mother (Nirina Zubir) to take care of the family, and they are generally happy.
Apart from living a normal child’s life and playing football, Delisa is busy working on her recitations from the Koran. Day and night, she memorizes verses for the recitation test administered by Rahman (Al Fathir Muchtar) the village’s well-regarded ustad . Delisa’s older sisters have already taken and passed the test and the whole family encourages Delisa to keep studying.
During class one day, Rahmah tell the students a story about the Prophet Muhammad’s best friend who was able to continue praying even after a scorpion stung him in the back. Delisa finds new inspiration from the story, and tells herself that she will perform a prayer like the Prophet’s best friend.
On the day of the test, and after hours of practice, Delisa is reciting the verses for Rahman when the tsunami hits the village. But Delisa, lost in concentration as she focuses on the prayer, barely notices what is happening around her. She’s eventually found lying on some rocks in the village, her leg so seriously injured it will eventually have to be amputated.
In the aftermath of the disaster, Adam (Mike Lewis), a US soldier, arrives with his team in Aceh to take part in the disaster relief efforts.
Meanwhile, Delisa’s father is trying to get back to Lhoknga and his family. He eventually finds Delisa, but the rest of the family was killed in the disaster. When Delisa learns about her mother, she’s furious with God because she had been praying so judiciously and behaving well, and yet she still suffered this terrible loss. The rest of the film is about Delisa, her father and the other villagers trying to cope with the tragedy.
The movie was filmed at Ujung Genteng in Java, standing in place of the real Lhoknga village. “We didn’t think that it would be respectful to the Acehnese if we shot the movie there,” director Sony Gaokasak said.
Because the film focuses so much on Delisa instead of the larger Acehnese population, “Delisa” feels more like a long sinetron rather than a feature film. The movie does a poor job of showing the utter chaos that followed the tsunami, and the low-budget CGI fails to capture the horror and monumental scale of a disaster that washed away many villages.
But all these shortcomings aside, Reza said religious films like “Delisa” had the chance to become the staple of the domestic industry. “[Our industry] hasn’t found our signature feature, like Bollywood and their dances,” he said.