From the background history of Indonesia’s darkness, it is a true story movie about the struggle of a young woman who fought for equal degrees with man. Kartini (played by Dian Sastro) is narrated from the time span of 1883-1903 in Jepara (a city in Java Island), from childhood to adulthood. Little Kartini was rebellious for wanting to sleep with her mother, Ngasirah (played by Christine Hakim) who incidentally is a household assistant. This is contrary to Javanese tradition at the time because Kartini’s father is a regent of Jepara (a noble class).
Time passes until Kartini is twelve years old. She must be locked up (pingit in Indonesia language) in a room because of her age – who is ready to be married. Enter pingitan means prepared to be Raden Ajeng, which is a title to be the wife of a regent inheriting the noble offspring.
Kartini is a teenager who is saturated with her life at home especially after her stepdaughter, Soelastri (played by Adinia Wirasti) get married. Then one day, Kartini finally gets a fresh air when her brother, Sosrokartono (played by Reza Rahadian) gives her a cabinet key containing books before he goes to the Netherlands. Kartini who later reads the books, get her mind opened with the world outside her room.
Later on, a Dutch official of education and culture Mr. Ovink-Soer asks RM Sosroningrat (Kartini’s father) to loosen the pingitan. Then the door is wide open for Kartini. He also invites her to the regions to meet with the people, dignitaries, and officials. Kartini is very happy to get freedom even though she still in the sight of her father. Apparently Kartini’s prowess made Abendanon, the educational and cultural officer of Batavia fell into it. From Abendanon, Kartini was awarded a scholarship to the Netherlands. Kartini is very happy, but again her father forbids it.
Actually, Kartini’s father really understands her wishes. Moreover RM Sosroningrat is known as an intellectual descent. Kartini’s grandfather was known as a regent who fought for native education. Therefore, prohibiting Kartini to take the scholarship is contrary to Sosroningrat. But Sosroningrat gets pressure from the family since he is powerless. His brother RM Hadiningrat considers that the treatment of Sosroningrat to give concession to Kartini has exceeded the limit. Therefore, despite heavy hearts, Sosroningrat forbids Kartini to take scholarship to the Netherlands. Instead, Sosroningrat allows Kartini to set up a school for women. Together with her younger sisters, Kardinah (played by Ayushita) and Roekmini (played by Acha Septriasa), Kartini establishes a school within the residency area.
At the same time, the Dutch Government is being pressured by the international colonies to prove its colonialist benefits to the colonized natives. Suddenly, Kartini becomes one of the spotlights. An envoy from the Governor-General of Batavia comes to Jepara to find Kartini. The goal is to bring Kartini to Batavia and facilitate her wishes including scholarship to Batavia. The door is open for Kartini. But things have changed as Kartini’s father is sick. Kartini is reluctant to add her father’s mind with her desires.
On the other hand, the presence of the Governor General’s envoy to Jepara made many parties jealous, especially for RM Hadiningrat. In various ways, Hadiningrat tries to prevent Kartini from getting her chance by pressing Sosroningrat (her brother) politically and sending a marriage application letter with a threat to use. Sosroningrat increasingly gets depressed, resulting in more severe pain. Kartini hesitates. If she meets scholarship to Batavia, she will leave her father in a state of distress by custom and family. But if she accepts the application from Hadiningrat, her future and the woman’s school that she and her siblings built will collapse.
Finally, Kartini accepts the proposal with three conditions; first, she will not wash her husband’s feet during the customary marriage (depicting Kartini’s desire to show that women have the same degree as men); second, she will not follow the strict manners that are enforced by royal; and third, she wants her future husband to support the construction of schools for women and the poor. Kartini’s husband candidate finally agrees to the terms and builds schools for women and the poor.
Raden Ajeng Kartini is definitely a very inspiring figure among Indonesian women. Hanung Bramantyo became a credible director in packing a historic story into an exciting spectacle for all ages. He tried to show that in Indonesia, commemorating Kartini every April 21 should not be enough to dress traditionally as a formality.
In this film, he is able to show Kartini’s tomboyish side that is often not featured in the history books of her life story. Setting the place, complete makeup, and precise made the audience really carried away in the atmosphere of Java in the year 1800-1900, but with no old-fashioned impression. Broadly speaking, in addition to the amazing story, the film is presented with a cinematography that is slick, and accompanied by beautiful music and artistic. Unfortunately, this film does not have English subtitles because it targets at sensitivity of young generation in Indonesia towards Kartini.
By Pricilia Angela, ASEAN Correspondent from Indonesia