From New York Times

Indonesian Filmmaker’s Personal Take on Polygamy
Timur Angin/Imaji, for The New York Times

Nia Dinata, whose father shocked her by taking two wives, says her film is a statement on Indonesian society.

Published: August 21, 2006

JAKARTA, Indonesia, Aug. 20 — Nia Dinata is, without much doubt, Indonesia’s most in-demand new filmmaker: packed screenings of her latest movie at the Tribeca and Cannes film festivals attest to that.

In “Love for Share,” a character is remorseful about taking three wives. “It’s a terrible mess,” he tells his son.

Her movies are more art house than Hollywood, and her success springs from a fearless drive to address issues of the day with poignancy and touches of humor. In her newest film, “Love for Share,” which portrays the behind-the-scenes anguish of polygamous marriages, viewers can also detect something else: an authenticity bred of experience.

When she was 18, just starting her freshman year at college in the United States, she was unexpectedly called home, where she learned that her father was taking a second wife.

Now, beyond even her personal experience, Ms. Dinata, 36, a graduate of the one-year course at New York University’s film school, said she saw the film as a statement about contemporary Indonesian society. As more conservative strands of Islam take hold in Indonesia, polygamy is on the rise, flaunted in public by princesses and politicians.

Ms. Dinata, who has a monogamous marriage, has grasped the moment to show what she has called the sadness and denials behind the smiles of wives who say they accept being one of a crowd.

“When my mother broke the news, I was shocked,” Ms. Dinata said, sitting at an outdoor cafe here, a cigarette in hand, at the end of a long day of shooting her fourth movie, which is about the aftermath of a terrorist attack. “I asked them to get a divorce.”

The parents, in turn, were shocked at her reaction, she recalled, because they assumed that all children wanted their mothers and fathers to stay together, even under difficult circumstances.

“Unlike most families in Indonesia where they try to cope, I was trying to say what I felt,” Ms. Dinata said.

Ms. Dinata’s father, who worked for Citibank and had taken the family to Saudi Arabia on a work assignment when Ms. Dinata was in primary school, married the second woman anyway. Her mother, a doctor, adopted an outward facade of calm.

Most telling for Ms. Dinata was not only her mother’s inner turmoil and outward bravery, but also the brevity of her father’s second marriage. It lasted four years. “For men,” she said, “they have to divide their time, they lose all the fun.”

Many of the second and third marriages, torn by the tensions of the husband trying to accommodate all wives, do not last, and those that do often result in domestic abuse, she said.

The underlying threads and emotions of her mother and father’s relationship, combined with two years of research around Indonesia — spent interviewing women from different social classes and visiting women’s shelters — was the backbone of “Love for Share.” The movie, divided into three parts, deals with three polygamous marriages in three families with different backgrounds.

Some of the scenes that are loosely based on the Dinata family background reveal raw emotions. The first wife in the movie, Salma, a gynecologist, is humiliated early on when she meets her husband’s second wife at a public function. “Why did I have to meet her in front of so many people?” Salma asks her husband when the couple gets home.

Her husband, a politician with all the trappings of an observant Muslim — he is referred to in the movie as Pak Hajji, a title used to indicate he has been to Mecca — says quite blandly: “You’re perfect. I just wanted to avoid adultery.”

Salma stoically goes about her life as a busy doctor, designing a new clinic, attending to women in childbirth. “I try to act as though nothing has changed,” she says.

But 10 years on, plenty has changed. Salma has adapted by wearing a Muslim head scarf, and by the end of the movie, Pak Hajji has a third and younger wife.

When he suffers a stroke all three wives turn up at the hospital. The disapproving teenage son (Ms. Dinata has a younger brother) says scornfully, “Dad got his wish, all three wives are together.”

But, to drive her point home, Ms. Dinata portrays Pak Hajji as remorseful on his deathbed. “It’s a terrible mess,” he tells his son. “When you marry, promise, only one wife.”

As an irresistible finale, Ms. Dinata has a fourth wife turn up at the funeral, bearing a small child.

The backdrop to “Love for Share” is far broader than a personal tale of torment and sorrow.

President Suharto, swayed at least in part by his wife, who was opposed to polygamy, ruled in 1974 that civil servants could not take extra wives without permission from the government, consent that was rarely granted.

But as Islam became a more powerful force here after Suharto’s fall in 1998, and the number of polygamous marriages increased, Ms. Dinata said the government was too afraid of the growing power of religious leaders to do anything about it.

A recent vice president, Hamzah Haz, bragged about his polygamy, taking his three wives on trips to Mecca. A well-known entrepreneur, Puspo Wardoyo, called polygamy an obligation of wealthy Muslim men, who, he argues, have enough money to spread around multiple women. He has four wives — the limit imposed by the Koran — and serves “polygamy juice,” a mixture of four tropical fruits at his chain of chicken restaurants. The four juices, he said, represent the ideal number of wives.

A princess in the royal house of Yogyakarta, Sitoresmi Trabuningrat, who is also a businesswoman, spoke recently about how being a member of a “team” of wives gave her more independence because the women could share the chores.

“Love for Share” was well-attended in Jakarta, and in Bandung, a nearby city, although many in the audience were foreigners living in Indonesia.

In the rest of the country, the audiences were small. “They don’t want to know,” Ms. Dinata said. “Women came with women in the middle of the day. They didn’t want their husbands to know.”

During her promotional tour of Indonesia, the calls to radio talk shows were maddeningly predictable, she said. “The men were so rude. They said: ‘How dare you criticize us? We are doing good for women by marrying more than one.’ ”

Few women called in, however, a fact Ms. Dinata attributed to their fear of discussing the subject.
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