Bhinneka Tunggal Ika — Unity in Diversity
Let us be reminded that we all have a unique place in society
The introduction to Indonesian folklore
ICN is an annual musical production brought to you by over 120 Indonesian students passionate about storytelling in Nanyang Technological University (NTU). Titled Nilanka: A Musical, the story takes viewers back in time for a riveting performance.
“For generations, ICN Cultural Production has discussed various themes while showcasing the vibrant culture and illustrations history of our Nusantara.” This year, ICN Cultural Production tells a captivating story about growth, love, and ambition from the classic Batak folklore ‘Dayang Bandir and Sandean Raja’.
The story and its characters
The aftermath of a civil war in the late nineteenth century saw the emergence of various family groups of the Batak tribe in North Sumatra.
Enter Arta, the crown prince of the kingdom in the East. Artha is deemed as young, spineless and weak, and ultimately unfit for the role of King.
His sister Manik, takes on the role of his advisor. In response to Artha’s constant doubt, she provides him with her unwavering support as seen in the musical numbers of ‘Be our King’ and ‘You’ll be the Greatest’ where she sings to him, in response to his uncertainty about taking on the role as king. She is his pillar of support, and her death kickstarts Artha’s independent journey to prove his worth to those around him.
Kareang, their fierce uncle, is initially introduced as an unassuming character but his true colours and motives are revealed soon enough; as the culprit of Manik’s death. Before leaving the scene of Manik’s death, Kareang gives the audience a sinister smile and coyly places a finger to his lips— a promise that this was only the beginning of his devious plan.
Captivated by his charm, Hasea, a royal physician, helps catalyse Kareang’s plan.
Across the forest stands the kingdom of the West led by Batara, who is known for his unrivaled wisdom. Greatly respected by his people, yet with only one person whom he cannot seem to get through: his beloved daughter, Nihita.
Restricted by the expectations of being a graceful princess, Nihita longs to break free and prove her worth — that she is more than capable than any other man in leading the kingdom. As with Artha, she too embarks on the journey to choose her own path and receive recognition.
The line ‘Will you trust me this once?’ sung by both Batara and his daughter Nihita was absolutely heart-wrenching. As a father, Batara only wants the best for his daughter. Nihita, who sees herself as an independent woman, believes she is more than what people expect of her. Both parties yearn for the other to understand and give in, but one side is just as stubborn as the other.
Throughout the musical, Artha implores the audience for reassurance various times through lyrics like “I have nothing” and “ What would I become?”. He questions himself, “Will I be the worthy of the throne?” and “Will the East welcome me?”
The lyrics in many of the songs used in this musical are simple, yet packed with emotions that never fail to move the audience. The sound effects throughout the musical were effective in creating the respective moods seen in Manik’s sacrificial death, Artha and Nihita’s first awkward encounter, Batara and Nihita’s tense father-daughter relationship and many more.
The musical started off with a joyous dance that introduces the audience to the kingdom in the East, and later on to the kingdom in the West. The dance demonstrated welcoming gestures, toward both the characters and audience, with open arms and wide smiles. The audience is offered a taste of Indonesian’s rich culture.
The choreography demonstrated Kareang’s dominance over the citizens in the kingdom in the East as its ruler, and had significant impact on the narrative. It showcased the acts of Kareang controlling their limbs like puppets, as well as them grovelling at his feet. The ending pose was Kareang spreading his arms, cackling, with the ends of his costume billowing out— and the distant rumbling of thunder can be heard.
Use of lighting and blocking
The scene where Hasea struggled internally was portrayed in an impactful manner. Lights were out on the other characters on stage and their unmoving stature created an atmosphere where Hasea was truly alone with her conflicting emotions and motives. Her feelings of guilt towards Manik and her devotion for Kareang were expressed through interchanging lighting colours, from a warm orange to alarming shades of red and purple. Her guilty side warned ‘No Hasea,’ ‘You will regret!’, but eventually failed. The song ended on a lullaby-like note, and while Hasea’s final smile towards Artha looking deceivingly gentle and innocent, it is made known to the audience her motives were nothing short of sinister.
Throughout the performance, lighting and blocking were used to great effect, creating intense atmospheres that corresponded seamlessly with the scenes.
This penultimate scene was a perfect summary of the key ideas the musical hoped to impart to its audiences. One by one, the characters took to the stage, their backs against the curtains, with only a single spotlight shining on them as they took turns to reflect on themselves.
Both Artha and Nihita smiled, for they have both reached their goals of ‘writing our own stories’. The audience was encouraged to pursue their goals and beliefs with their utmost determination.
Manik promoted the idea of always ‘listening to the voice within’ and staying true to one’s self. The symbol of sacrificial love, Manik reminds the audience to love one another, including themselves.
Batak’s regret is greatly reflected; ‘Forgive me selfishness’, followed by his pride for Nihita; ‘I’m proud of you Nihita’, ‘There’s no greater love than the one I have for you’. Both father and daughter express smiles — albeit of regret — for they were both aware of what they could have done better.
Kareang’s consequence was one of greed. Letting himself be consumed by his desire of power, he showed no regret till this point, where he attempts to explain and redeem himself, claiming ‘For power has made (him) a fool’ and that he ‘deserved punishment’.
Hasea admits with guilt that she was ‘blinded’, and further advocates the idea of ‘unconditional love’. She sings ‘Evil will vanish but love will not vanquish’ and ‘It is ourselves we must truly embrace’.
The musical ends on a happy note, with the citizens of the Eastern and Western kingdoms gathering and dancing in celebration during Artha and Nihita’s wedding.
Unforgettably, their last lines are sung — ‘We have been fitting in well in a mold of conformity’, ‘ready to accept ourselves’, ‘everyone’s different but all equal’ and ‘embrace who we truly are’ — reinforcing the musical’s message to the audience: unity in diversity.
Who else is looking forward to the next story ICN brings to life?
Photos by Darren Chiong of the DANAMIC team.