The lights dim down; the applause dwindles. Then, the curtains open, and suddenly we are transported to an Indonesian classroom. Within the first 10 minutes, laughter reverberates through the audience, and we are taken into a musical dance routine. Comparing this to High School Musical might seem natural, but this was better, especially given that the students composed their own music and choreographed their dances. Saujana immediately hooked me in, but little did I know what I was in for.
Saujana is an ICN Cultural Production musical organised by the Indonesian Students of NTU (PINTU). This year, Abhirama Radhitya Santoso, spearheaded the annual production. Saujana translates to ‘as far as the eyes look’ – inviting the audience to look beyond what meets the eye and into deeper issues like mental health and familial bonds.
Made up of 14 scenes, with dance numbers interspersed in between, the play takes us through the life of our protagonist Lina, played by Kimberly Atmadja, who has always been the perfect daughter, but cannot put up that front any longer. As things start to brew in her personal life at home and her responsibilities in school, Lina fails to cope, sending her into a downward spiral.
The choice of topic itself is one worth lauding. A brave choice by ICN, they mentioned, “our show focuses on how Indonesians balance the relentless pace of modern life, while still clinging on to traditional Indonesian perceptions of an ideal family and way of life.”
While some might only scratch the issue on the surface, Saujana explores the intricacies of Mental Health deeply. Written by the scriptwriter, Herbian Hokky Prabowo, the choice of using the relatable school girl Lina as the protagonist – who is reliant on sleeping pills to handle her insomnia, is in a toxic relationship with her boyfriend, and handles the pressure of being the chairperson of a club in school and the default peacemaker at home – sets the stage to explore how one’s responsibilities can eventually bog them down, and affect them to the point of no return.
Herbian mentions, “The conflict that stems from this difference of principles and beliefs is one that I would like to portray, specifically how it emerges in an Indonesian context. And not just the conflict itself but how we chose to deal with it; how we put this conflict into the context of our lives. But most importantly, the effects of this conflict on the people closest to us.”
Bouncing off Herbian’s point, one of the most interesting themes in Saujana for me was the exploration of the family dynamic. Lina’s family is made up of her brother, Gilang (played by Alvin Putera), her mother (Joanka Devi), and her father (Wesley Susanto). On the surface, they might seem like a regular family, but which family isn’t a tad bit dysfunctional, right?
With the parents insisting on sticking to traditions and customs and the children, especially Gilang, seeking for some meaning in what they see as ineffectual showmanship, creates conflict between the two generations. This also causes a gap in understanding when it comes to issues like Lina’s mental health. At the end of the day, as Gilang says, the family doesn’t truly talk. And that is the biggest problem of them all.
While all the musical bits were impressive to say the least, my favourites would definitely have to be Look At Me With Pride and Last Wish, both of which are performed towards the end of the play, where the characters reveal their true emotions either through conflict or trauma.
In Look At Me With Pride, the family has a falling out at one of their relatives’ weddings. The parents and Gilang simply wish for the other to look at them with pride. While Gilang thinks that his parents are blindly following culture and refuse to stick by the truth, his parents assert that they are already doing the best that they can and are only sticking to their principles.
Last Wish, on the other hand, is a reflection of Lina’s inner psyche as she reaches a tipping point. With everything around her crumbling down, Lina desperately seeks meaning and love. A final cry for help, Lina rethinks what it means to be a good daughter, sister, girlfriend and student but fails to consider what it means to be there for herself first.
The play ends with Lina overdosing but being saved in time by her family. They reconcile and reflect and promise to take it one step at a time – that’s all anyone can do.
Saujana is certainly a well-thought-out and structured play, anchored in a deep and important message about learning what it means to put ourselves first, especially in today’s day and age of hustle culture. It also reflects on how we navigate familial ties when our personal needs are unmet or clash with our family’s.
ICN’s production certainly left me in a mini existential crisis (in a great way) after the play ended. I cannot wait to see what the next rendition of ICN brings us next year!
For more insights into ICN 2023: Saujana, do check out our interview with the members of the production team and the cast.
Visuals courtesy of Yujie of the DANAMIC Team.