The person selling cigarettes is extremely infatuated with their crush.
Created by Sashti Nandani, and co-directed by Kamila Andini and Ifa Isfansyah, the five-episode series opens with flashbacks of a terminally ill Soeraja (Pritt Timothy) is visited by, and who ends up pleading his son Lebas (Arya Saloka) to find a woman called Jeng Jah (Dian Sastrowardoyo). The lad is given a tin jar which contains a key to a safe in his grandfather’s office, but when he gets there, his only clues become an old photograph showing a big group of people, and a bunch of letters written to Soeraja by Dasiyah that happens to be Jeng Jah’s second name.
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The Netflix series “Cigarette Girl”, based on the best-selling novel by Ratih Kumala, is currently one of the most intriguing shows on the popular streaming platform. It not only takes place in a vintage era, but also focuses on a unique topic. In a time where warnings for violent shows like Takashi Miike’s “Connect” on Disney+ only mention tobacco use, this Indonesian soap opera invites us to explore the world of the tobacco industry and a woman’s determination to create new flavors for the brand.
We are transported back in time to 1964, in Kota M., when we meet Dasiyah, a young woman deeply involved in male-dominated activities that go unnoticed. Women are only allowed to work as handrollers in the tobacco industry, as we learn, and although her father Idroes Moeria (Rukman Rosadi) supports her passion, he does not intend to break tradition completely. According to tradition, women are expected to get married, have children, and take care of the household. Dasiyah’s suitor has already been chosen for her, and she has no say in the matter until she takes matters into her own hands, causing a scandal. The unexpected outcome of this delicate situation is that she manages to gracefully escape it, at least for a considerable period of time.
“Cigarette Girl” is not a typical story of two broken hearts crushed by unfortunate circumstances, a trope over-used in the soap opera format. It also has a bit of history to offer alongside a basic insight into the women’s hardships in Indonesia not such long time ago. “Your duty is to clean the house and find yourself a husband” is the way other men in the industry speak to Dasiyah who – treated as unequal doesn’t stand a chance to negotiate with them. Tobacco production and sale, just like smoking, is men’s thing. On the other hand, punishment for disobedience on the job is equally merciless for both sexes.
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Upon arrival in the world of young Dasiyah, her family is faced with significant changes following the 30 September 1965 movement. They will go from being wealthy to impoverished, losing all of their property overnight. To make matters even worse, Idroes will suffer a tragic fate and lose his life.
The first decade of the new millennium and the past are constantly compared, along with romance and a serious tobacco business. The true passion lies in the smoky rather than emotional aspects, with flowery language used to describe the aroma of fresh or dried tobacco leaves. The focus is on ashes rather than crushes. However, there is still a romantic element, beginning with the entrance of the young and charming Soeraya, played by Ario Bayu (a regular in Joko Anwar’s films). This is a new type of role for Bayu, but he still manages to pull off the bedroom eyes, even when the story becomes overly saccharine. Fortunately, there are other dramatic elements that balance out the sweetness.
You may become fatigued attempting to comprehend the relationships between numerous individuals in two distinct time periods, whether separate or interwoven. However, you cannot help but be amazed by the brilliance of Hagai Pakan’s costume design, which enhances the overall sophistication of the set design by Wihana Erlangga and Dita Gambiro, and adorned by Danang K.C.
Make yourself a cup of coffee and use Netflix to virtually visit a place that may be difficult to experience in real life without a trigger warning.