‘Cigarette Girl’ On Netflix Is Smashing Patriarchy With A Golden Hammer

If you like a purple background with blue dollops in it, then I am sure you will like this miniseries, an Indonesian drama “Cigarette Girl” streaming on Netflix. With five episodes of approximately an hour each the series captures your heart for the very reason it smashes patriarchy with a golden hammer.

It was the year 1964, back in M City Sir Idores Moeria owns a small Kretek (Cigarette) factory where we find only women workers being allowed to roll the cigarettes. Father to two daughters Dasiyah aka Jeng Yah and Rukayah he allows his daughters to follow their hearts never imposing a single rule on them. But of course the sisters prove their worth, especially Jeng Yah who takes a keen interest in her father’s business.

The only ban she faces is the entry to the blue door room where the flavors were being prepared by experimenting with several blends. Females were denied an entry into that room with a saying that females aren’t deft in creating a suitable aroma much to angst of Dasiyah aka Jeng Yah.

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The series streams back and forth between 2001 and the 60’s. In the year 2001 we find a conglomeration of facts and a dying man’s will to unite with his long lost girlfriend. Set in Jakarta the old man is the owner of a vast empire of kretek. He is seen fighting cancer. He hands over his free spirited son Lebas a picture of people whom he has never seen and letters written by someone he has never met.

Apparently it is a love story between Soeraja and Dasiyah whose accidental meeting changes their trajectory of lives forever. Raja is a Dutch who is looking for avenues to establish himself when in the market place he sees Dasiyah. He is the only man who doesn’t lower his eyes in front of her.

A series of events follow and Idores hires Raja to work in his factory. Dasiyah who is in charge then makes him sit with all females and roll cigarettes and Raja proves he is way better than what Dasiyah had thought about him. Idores had in him an innate quality of judging a person without a flaw. He promotes Raja to the post of his factory’s foreman.

The time when patriarchy was at its best Dasiyah not only rejected her marriage proposals but expressed her will to make a unique flavor of kretek which would be cherished and remembered forever. Raja hands over the key of the flavor room to Dasiyah where she makes a unique blend with Rose petals which her father christens as Gadis Kretek (Cigaretter Girl).

Though Raja and Idores are shown very progressive the societal scenario projected was highly patriarchal. First, Dasiyah is a girl. Second, their family belonged to the rival political party and Third, Dasiyah never wanted to marry until she met Raja.

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The film smashes the glass ceiling when Lebas upon instructions from his father travels for the search of the women Jeng Yah. He visits the Kretek museum when he encounters Arum who is taken aback by the picture. The love story of Raja and Jeng Yah is well explained. Also Jeng Yah gets the credit for her flavor which was wrongly used under the pseudo label of Lebas’s greedy grandfather.

And destiny had it in store another love story bubbling between Lebas and Arum. May be a compensation of the lost love between Jeng Yah and Soeraja. Soeraja finally meets Jeng Yah in her grave and he too dies few days later. The film caught my eye just because of Idores nature and his ideals of being a feminist father. I too was brought up by a feminist father and that’s the reason I know what it means to fight out these men.

I was the only female student in the class of sixty males in the department of Mechanical Engineering where not only I was harangued by my classmates but was also a victim of molestation by my Professor. He sabotaged my grades so that I fail but he couldn’t succeed in his mission. There are stories to women giving in to his demands and that may be the reason of his undue audacity.

The series is picturesque. The beautiful splashes of blues, purple and white steals the show. To be precise each color indicated an emotion just like the Navarasas in the Vedic literature. The flavor room was magnificently articulated and brings out in the audiences the spirit of nostalgia.

There is always a curiosity in the viewers – what next? The introduction of ink, pen and paper takes us back to our childhood when mobile, computers, tabs and what not were a far cry. The actors have presented their works gracefully and the tender beauty Jeng Yah steals the show with her sprinkling eyes. The makeup artist too deserves a standing ovation as each character was represented by his/her’s brushes.

The series is based on the Novel named Gadis Kretek by author Ratih Kumala. I will recommend you to watch the series. You might find it a bit slow but try giving it a shot. A word of caution the entire series is loaded with scenes of heavy smoking though they have given a trigger warning right at the beginning of the series where the dying old man scoffs puffing a cigarette.

Trust me you will enjoy the series. Go for it, now.

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About the Author

Rimli Bhattacharya

Rimli Bhattacharya is a First class gold medalist in Mechanical Engineering from National Institute of Technology, an MBA in supply chain management and is engaged with a corporate sector. Her essay in the anthology “Book read more...

103 Posts | 683,280 Views

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