Netflix’s "Cigarette Girl" ("Gadis Kretek") is an epic series that is as sprawling & ambitious as the hopes & dreams it carries for Indonesia’s filmmakers. Co-director Kamila Andini talks about a show she had on her wish list for more than a decade.
November 2 can’t come fast enough for Kamila Andini, the Indonesian co-director of period drama, "Cigarette Girl". A project more than three years in the making and hovering on her wish list for years and years before that, the Netflix original drama series, now less than a month away from its premiere, carries with it the hopes, dreams and ambitions not only of its creators, but also of an entire creative Industry that has Korea-style global stardom in its sights but knows how tough it is going to be to get there.
Based on Ratih Kumala’s 2012 novel, "Cigarette Girl" (aka "Gadis Kretek") stars Dian Sastrowardoyo (Sri Asih) as Dasiyah, a woman ahead of her time who is passionate about the perfect formula for clove cigarettes. Decades after her encounter with Soeraja, played by Ario Bayu ("The Bridge"), Soeraja’s son Lebas ("Arya Saloka"), meets Arum ("Putri Marino"), and together they trace the past and uncover buried secrets.
Helmed by Kamila Andini ("The Mirror Never Lies") and Ifa Isfansyah ("Before, Now & Then"), the series is produced by Base Entertainment with showrunners Shanty Harmayn and Tanya Yuson. Ratih Kumala and Tanya Yuson also served as screenwriters along with Kanya K. Priyanti and Ambaridzki Ramadhantyo.
We spoke to Andini during the ContentAsia Summit at the end of August as the first trailer for the series was released...
Why did you choose Gadis Kretek and what does this project mean to you?
“It’s quite a long story actually. The story came to us – me and my co-director, who is also my husband, Ifa Isfansyah. Ifa was so in love with the novel. It’s one of the novels that we kept talking about. He had this big passion to make it into a film, and gave it to many producers over the years. But this is a story that starts in two periods of time with so many characters, set against a backdrop of the clove industry, which is the biggest industry in Indonesia, and also the backdrop of our political situation, with romance and drama. So everything is there basically. But it was so hard for us to find anyone who wanted to make this. It’s a big canvas and we knew it wasn’t going to be easy to find money for it. So for many years it just lay there. One day, Ifa gave the novel to Shanty and Tanya [from Base Entertainment] and they loved it. So they came to Ifa and asked if we want to make it into a series. We were like ‘really, it’s happening after so many years?’?
“Shanty and Tanya asked me to co-direct it with Ifa. We’ve never worked together as directors before. He’s always been my producer for my movies. So, this story is our first time directing together. We were quite excited but nervous. But this is a story that’s been in us for many years and we just wanted to see the characters come alive... and here we are.”
How is this different from anything/everything you’ve done before?
“I always see my work as my own child and every child is very different from the others. I’m sort of reborn each time I do something. Cigarette Girl speaks to me and about me, and Ifa as well, at this time and it reflects us at this certain time and context. We are like new again after making this as a creator and it’s been amazing.”
Do you have a favourite scene from Cigarette Girl?
“A lot, it’s a bit hard because I have to answer without spoiling. There are a lot of heartbreaking, but also beautiful, revelation moments in this series. Something about secrets of the past and also the passion and the romance... The series is set back-to-back in two time periods. So I love every time both of the periods connect, even though they never actually meet. That’s actually what is beautiful about the series... that connection within time without actually meeting is actually very beautiful.”
How long do you like to spend in rehearsals with talent before shooting?
“As long as I can, it depends how many months I can do. Perhaps, if I am given a year, I will do it for a year. But it’s very different in each of the stories, and it’s also very different in each of the characters. Every director has their own approach and every actor also has their own approach and prepping with them, it’s always been a magical time for me because we get to know each other and how we are going to shape this, in each of our differences and preferences. So for me, there are characters that I think can be very intense sometimes because maybe also the character could be 100 degrees different than their real character.”
How involved do you, as a director, get in script writing?
“I’m a writer/director, so I have always been involved in everything and creating the story together story wise and visually. So I’m used to creating the visuals during the development, the writing and the treatment. In Gadis Kretek, Base Entertainment already has a team of writers, headed by Tanya at that time and [the novel’s author] Ratih, who was one of the writers in the writers room. I like to get involved in terms of visual treatment during the development. Tanya and Shanty gave me room for that... gave us the script quite early and asked me and Ifa for ideas about the characters and how we want to shape them... we were involved in the script writing as well. For me, I got the time to talk with the team, the actors... and also to start thinking since early stages”.
▶ Published in ContentAsia October 2023 magazine