STOP10: Nyanyian Akar Rumput (The Songs of Grassroots) by Yuda Kurniawan

Nyanyian Akar Rumput (The Songs of Grassroots) is a 2018 documentary that recently premiered at the Jogja NETPAC Asian Film Festival. The film directed by Yuda Kurniawan sheds light on the human rights violations leading to the disappearance of a poet and human rights activist, Wiji Thukul since 1998 until today. 

The premise follows Fajar Merah, his birth son, and a singer-songwriter. The documentary focuses on how Fajar’s life was impacted by the disappearance of his father since he was 5. The story also focuses on his sister, Fitri Nganthi Wani, and his mother, Siti Dyah Sujirah, and their coping mechanisms between the 1990s until present day. The 2014 Presidential Elections was a highlight of this documentary as Fajar and family were hopeful that if Joko Widodo was elected, his party may help them find out what happened to Wiji Thukhul.

From the perspective of a Singapore resident, this film shed light around what was and is still happening to human rights activists in certain regions around the world. A rare aspect that I appreciated seeing was that protests and demonstrations are legal in Indonesia. In Singapore, you need to apply for a permit from the police, and you have to be a citizen or permanent resident to participate. 

I felt it was great to show the impact that the police, and protestors had during the presidential election campaign in 2014. It also shows how Wiji held ‘The New Order’ accountable through his poem, public speaking, and the impact that increases his followers who join in concerts of ‘Merah Bercerita’, the band Fajar plays in. 

I found the following of ‘Merah Bercerita’ very lengthy. But, the symbolism in both films are highlighted based on the dressings of Merah Bercerita, as well as the tone of pitch for the song, or their dressing. The ending scene when Merah Bercerita commemorated Wiji’s supposed 52nd birthday, where their fans are seeing the band members painted all over their bodies, with peace symbols, also showcasing an angry pig with teeth shaped like a devil complementing masks; possibly using semiotics to show the wants of Fajar versus the situation at hand. He echoes the sentiments his father had noted as poems very well.

Near the end, we see Wiji’s family, of which Fajar does have a close relationship. Indefinitely, all of them do share grief over the unknown whereabouts of Wiji. This is a tearjerking moment as we are able to see the grief openly displayed. It also allows the audience to reflect how civil activists who sacrifice a lot, may never return. 

The depressing part of watching this documentary is that as of today, the whereabouts of Wiji Thukhul is still unknown, and this does present a blow towards the family and supporters’ hopes of Joko Widodo being elected as the president of Indonesia. It also makes us think as to how much should we expect from politicians, whether their ideals are similar or different from our own and how much hope we should put into situations we can’t control.

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