Sometimes, it’s the subtle and unassuming stories that surprise us the most. Yet, they also run the risk of going unnoticed, a true creative person’s worst nightmare.
Cigarette Girl is a new Indonesian series, now streaming on Netflix. It is the second time I am reviewing content from the region, the first being, The Big Four.
With five episodes in its repertoire, each one spanning over an hour on average, it’s quite an investment in terms of time.
Netflix describes Cigarette Girl as a sentimental and bittersweet drama based on Ratih Kumala’s novel of the same name.
Does it come good on the performance delivery front? Let’s find out in my review.
Cigarette Girl Synopsis
Lebas’ ailing father asks him to search for an unfamiliar name, beginning his voyage into his family’s dark and mysterious past.
Directed by Kamila Andini and Ifa Isfansyah, Cigarette Girl features Dian Sastrowardoyo (Jeng Yah or Dasiyah), Ario Bayu (Raja), Putri Marino (Arum), Arya Saloka (Lebas), Tissa Biani (Rukayah), Rukman Rosadi (Idroes), Sha Ine Febriyanti (Roemaisa), Sheila Dara (Purwanti), Verdi Solaiman (Djagad), and Ibnu Jamil (Seno).
What Works for Cigarette Girl?
It could be the most restful series of 2023 till now, in my opinion. Its understated aesthetics provide a serene escape from the usual clamor.
The storyline fires yearning romance draped in years of family drama, political instability, and professional rivalry.
Jeng Yah or Dasiyah, is an ambitious young woman who dreams of leading her father’s cigarette manufacturing business.
But her family’s deeply entrenched patriarchal beliefs insist on her getting married instead.
Further complicating matters, women are barred from the flavor room, fearing their touch might add a ‘feminine’ essence to a product intended for men.
This hampers her creative aspirations to craft unique flavors that could outshine the growing competition.
Cigarette Girl takes us to the 1960s when Indonesia was on the tenterhooks of fighting for independence.
The narrative keeps shifting from one era to the other. Jeng Yah falls in love with Raja, a worker at his father’s business.
Due to some unavoidable circumstances, they are separated. Now, in 2001, an ailing Raja is on his deathbed when he asks one of his sons to go and search for Jeng Yah.
What begins as an exploration of professional discrimination against a woman evolves into a heartfelt romance drama.
Moving forward, the series ably adds several touchpoints that transport goosebumps. The drama is mostly viable and not over the top although it does get hard to digest on a couple of occasions.
Cigarette Girl’s affability makes it likable for a wider audience. Additionally, the soft musical background evokes nostalgia and hits the right chords.
Not many, including me, would understand the lyrics. Still, the calming effect remains as the plot moves forward.
Overall, I think the show benefits most from the depth of its story, which allows the eventual connections to look strong and roaring.
How are the Performances?
Dian Sastrowardoyo, cast as Jeng Yah or Dasiyah, delivers a captivating performance that redefines onscreen admiration for her fans.
She plays a pivotal role in upholding the enchanting essence of Cigarette Girl.
Her presence on screen radiates like a comforting ray of sunshine, imbuing the audience with a rich blend of cinematic emotions such as love, warmth, and tenderness.
Ario Bayu succeeds in depicting a responsible Raja in Cigarette Girl. He is quiet and determined, mostly conveying his intentions through his actions instead of dialogues.
His demeanor is stealthy, expressions are detailed, and screen presence is on the bright side.
Putri Marino, who was also a part of The Big Four, portrays Arum in this Indonesian film. She hones a restrained character who is sure to touch your heart.
One can sense independence in her personality as Marino goes on to explore a nuanced sketch.
Arya Saloka is Lebas in Cigarette Girl. He goes through a transformative journey and impresses you with a controlled performance.
What Doesn’t Work for Cigarette Girl?
The central concept in Cigarette Girl can be seen as somewhat dated and overly familiar.
The trope of a male character, on his deathbed, tasking his son with finding a woman is a narrative device that’s been used in numerous films and series.
When the son goes on the voyage, he finds another girl related to the woman’s family. They team up to discover the past of their respective family members and in the process, they themselves fall in love.
Another example is Grahan, another Indian show, which closely parallels the plot of Cigarette Girl.
It means that the series explores a storytelling theme that has been a part of cinematic narratives for decades.
Presumably, the creators might have been more groundbreaking had they delved into the concept when the novel was released, at least five years ago.
Secondly, the portrayal of Jeng Yah as overly dependent on Raja may not work well for the cinematic presentation.
While the show aims to depict the social setup of Indonesia at the time, it inadvertently conveys a message that a woman always needs a man to grow.
This portrayal lacks inspiration and could have been improved with a more empowered and independent character.
Additionally, the pacing of the series tends to be consistently slow. While some may perceive it as a classic romance, for others, it might feel lethargic to keep up with.
Personally, I found the pace to be sluggish, and ‘Cigarette Girl’ could have benefited from a brisker narrative.
Stream or Skip?
If you can do with a lagging pace of narration, you should go for it. Otherwise, Cigarette Girl is better skipped.