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BWW Review: #MusikalDiRumahAja Debuts with MALIN KUNDANG

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BWW Review: #MusikalDiRumahAja Debuts with MALIN KUNDANGThe first of #MusikalDiRumahAja series is here. Malin Kundang, the West Sumatran folktale, is available to watch until Thursday (7/30) evening on Indonesia Kaya's YouTube channel and stars Nino Prabowo, Dea Panendra, Desmonda Cathabel, and Naura.

BOOW LIVE! and INDONESIAKAYA.COM are producting #MusikalDiRumahAja, a musical web series consisting of 6 Indonesian folktales adapted for the modern times. The series is part of a fundraising campaign for art workers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Read more about the program here.

The source of this episode, Malin Kundang, is a morality tale featuring the titular main character. A rock formation at Air Manis beach, resembling the figure of a man bowing on the ground, is said to be Malin Kundang's body, serving as a caution for all to this day.

Scriptwriter Titien Wattimena's adaptation smartly truncated most of the already-familiar story. The #MusikalDiRumahAja opened with a song sung by child actress and singer Naura as the Narrator, retelling Malin's voyage away from his village. Alongside a ditty little tune and animated storybook background, the adorable Narrator made the opening song an absolute joy to watch.

BWW Review: #MusikalDiRumahAja Debuts with MALIN KUNDANG
Naura as the Narrator, with an animated background dripping with charm.

The scene then opened to Malin's (singer Nino Prabowo) house, where he lived with her wife Nur (musical actress Desmonda Cathabel) in the big city. Nur asked to visit Malin's hometown, intrigued by his stories of the supposedly vast and extravagant house where he grew up.

Though at first reluctant, he finally relented. The couple arrived in their majestic boat, their luxurious garbs a stark contrast with the rundown village. Malin's mother, Rubayah (singer and actress Dea Panendra) came to see them. She had been looking out to the sea every day for years, waiting for Malin who had left the village on a voyage to look for a better life.

Now haughty and prideful, Malin rejected her, proclaiming that she was but a stranger. Heartbroken, Rubayah cried out to the heavens above. The sky turned dark, the winds howling; a divine curse struck Malin, turning him to stone. The story closed with a closing song by the Narrator, a darker reprise of the opening song.

BWW Review: #MusikalDiRumahAja Debuts with MALIN KUNDANG
Nur (Desmonda Cathabel) and Malin (Nino Prabowo). Though not wholly realistic, the CGI background blended well with the actors.

Lending their artistic visions were Rama Soeprapto as Theatrical Director and Pritagita Arianegara as Cinematic Director. As previously stated during the media briefing and press conference, #MusikalDiRumahAja is rife with constraints; the pandemic necessitated working remotely, except for the very limited shooting session.

However, the directors and creative team worked around these limitations; in place of physical sets or on-location shoots, they used blue screen effect to conjure up various backgrounds. Although the resulting fidelity could not reach true realism yet, they didn't need to.

As the show opened with animated backgrounds, the show audience was primed to welcome the semi-realist stylistic approach of Malin Kundang. Thus, the CGI backgrounds almost never felt out of place, with the sole of exception of Malin's wonky petrification effect.

Acting-wise, the main trio performed admirably; the actors managed to portray the characters with distinctive personalities and surprising depth. Titien's writing also salvaged the characters from being one-dimensional, as folktale characters often were, each of them having their own internal conflict.

BWW Review: #MusikalDiRumahAja Debuts with MALIN KUNDANG
The three main characters played off each other well.

However, as the web series was different from both film and theater (and targeted for audience of all ages), there were still rough edges to be found. A few of the acting choices felt held back, with ambiguous expressions nearing the story's climax that would benefit from sharper, more pronounced anguish or anger.

The dialogue and delivery were also a bit uneven at times; although the production design and costumes were mostly traditional, the characters often spoke in a neutral, if not modern, manner. Some regional affectation would add another layer of charm and personality to the episode.

Additionally, there was a slight weird inconsistency in Malin's characterization. In the song before the couple sailed back to Malin's hometown, Malin sung fondly of his mother and the time they spent together.

BWW Review: #MusikalDiRumahAja Debuts with MALIN KUNDANG
Rubayah's (Dea Panendra) emotional plead at the climax of the story.

Though interesting, this point was never expanded upon; Malin denounced Rubayah just the same. These hints at even more complex characterizations were intriguing but couldn't fully realized due to the 18-minute runtime.

Still, these are relatively minor concerns. Taken altogether, the show worked well. It had remarkably excellent flow; the scenes never feeling overly long nor unsatisfyingly short. Interspersed with the main story were contemporary dance segments featuring Davit Fitrik, which served to further the mood and pace of the episode.

On the musical side of things, the songs (by Dian HP) were both effective and entertaining. Though short (a necessity, considering the show's length), they were melodious, catchy, sung really well by the cast (who got to flex their vocal capability in the allocated time), and never felt gratuitous. A standout was the prologue song, an immensely charming number that incorporated traditional musical elements into the modern and playful tune.

BWW Review: #MusikalDiRumahAja Debuts with MALIN KUNDANG
A beautiful shot from one of the dance sequences.

As an aside, a verse in the song where Nur denounced Rubayah had become a meme around Twitter and Tiktok. It is a cause for celebration, as bonafide memes hailing from the Indonesian musical scene are still a rarity. It also worked to the show's advantage, bringing more views to the full episode.

Finally, the cinematography, sound engineering, and production design definitely rounded up the experience. The visuals and sound were crisp with many beautiful shots, while the costume and make-up were simply delightful; Dea Panendra's age-up transformation and Naura's asymmetrical and stylish kebaya stood out in particular. Everything felt very well-made.

Malin Kundang is a great opening episode to the #MusikalDiRumahAja program. Bringing together such immense creative and acting talents paid off, creating a very professional episode with a lot of charm. However, as this is a whole new undertaking to everyone involved, some growing pains are to be expected. Should there be a second season, I believe the collective experience would result in even better episodes.

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From This Author Rakaputra Paputungan