Love in the time of kretek

PETALING JAYA: Indonesian actress and model Dian Sastrowardoyo is no stranger to international acclaim, but even she is overwhelmed by the global attention on her latest TV series Gadis Kretek.

The phenomenal show on streaming service Netflix recently created history by taking the pole position in 22 countries, making it one of the platform’s top 10 most-watched non-English series.

“I didn’t expect it to be so big. The series is being watched by audiences in Argentina, Peru, Brazil, Puerto Rico and Romania, for example, countries which I have never been to,’’ said the award-winning actress who has earned various international accolades.

She, the cigarette girl: Dian plays Dasiyah in ‘Gadis Kretek’ and below, in a scene with co-star Ario Bayu. — NetflixShe, the cigarette girl: Dian plays Dasiyah in ‘Gadis Kretek’ and below, in a scene with co-star Ario Bayu. — Netflix

Then there is the global debate on Gadis Kretek’s controversial depiction of on-screen smoking.

Dian said she is thankful that her strong base of fans in Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei has given their support to the series too.

The actress expressed surprise when told that there were Malaysian viewers who chose to switch to the original Javanese language audio to get an authentic feel of the period drama, which is the first Indonesian TV series to be produced by Netflix.

Speaking in impeccable English while occasionally switching to Bahasa Indonesia to stress her points in an interview with Star Media Group Berhad adviser Datuk Seri Wong Chun Wai on his webcast RealChunWai, Dian shared her experience preparing for the role of Dasiyah, the lead character of Gadis Kretek.

Dasiyah is a strong-willed woman whose family owns a small-scaled kretek – or clove cigarette – factory in the Town of M, Indonesia, during the 1960s.

Although very talented in her work, with an amazing ability to create new kretek products, Dasiyah faces huge challenges and discrimination as a woman in a male-dominated industry, even though she is the daughter of the cigarette factory owner.

As customary in upper-class Javanese families, her father arranges for her to marry the son of another kretek business owner, but Dasiyah only has eyes for Soeraja, a lowly worker at her family’s factory.

Their epic romance encounters various trials and tribulations, amid the intrigue of Indonesia’s tobacco industry competing to create the perfect kretek.

As Dian told Wong, who is also the chairman of Malaysia’s national news agency Bernama, she had prepared for the role by making several self-imposed sacrifices to immerse herself in the character.

‘’Once my husband and children left for work and school, I abstained from watching TV, stopped my social media engagements, withdrew from my social life and spent hours listening to gamelan and Indonesian classics,’’ she said.

Dian shared that she also drew on her experience playing Raden Adjeng Kartini, a Javanese women’s rights and education heroine in the late 19th century, in the 2017 movie Kartini.

‘’It took me a lot of effort to walk like a respectable, elegant Javanese woman with a certain stature. Should I say I learnt to glide,” she said, adding that she spent months learning the slow walk.

Dian said that her husband, businessman Maulana Indraguna Sutowo, did not want to watch the series but declined to say why. Placing priority on her family, Dian also said that she would not pose for selfies when she was spending time with her family, citing that if she agreed to one selfie, it would open a floodgate for fans to rush for selfies.

Dian, who first gained popularity in the region for her role in the 2002 post-Indonesia Reformasi teen romance Ada Apa Dengan Cinta? appeared as a guest in Wong’s webcast RealChunWai.The 35-minute show can be watched on the mStar and Majoriti portals.

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