Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 9 August 2020

‘Daring and bold’: inside the Indonesian remake of US teen drama 'Pretty Little Liars'

Star Shindy Huang says the 'bahasa' version tackles topical issues concerning her homeland

Shindy Huang stars in 'Pretty Little Liars'. Viu
Shindy Huang stars in 'Pretty Little Liars'. Viu

Friendship knows no language.

This is one of the reasons why US teen drama Pretty Little Liars became such an international sensation.

In addition to the bumper ratings throughout its seven-season run, which ended in 2017, the drama about four estranged friends reunited by a mysterious villain spawned international adaptations in India and Turkey.

The latest territory to provide its own spin is Indonesia, which recently premiered on the online platform Viu.

Whether you are fan of the original or a newcomer, the bahasa Indonesia version is as entertaining as it is fascinating.

Not only do the panoramic shots of oceans and lush greenery of its Bali setting inspire serious travel envy, but some of the themes tackled also provide interesting insights into world’s most populous Muslim country.

Faithful but local

It’s also a showcase of talent from an industry that rarely receives international attention.

Then again, that is not something that would really bother Indonesian television creatives. With a population of 267 million people to service, the industry has been buzzing for decades.

As such, the industry has developed a no-nonsense approach to production. Case in point: this version of Pretty Little Liars was shot in true Indonesian style, with all 10 45-minute episodes shot in the space of 41 days.

“It was a challenge and you always have to come prepared,” confirms Shindy Huang, 25, who plays one of the four friends, Aria.

In addition to the tight schedule, Huang recalls the initial pressure of adapting such a much-loved series.

“In a way, I was expecting to be judged because many people have watched the original and already have a mental image of how everything is supposed to be and look like,” she tells The National.

“But eventually, you just focus on the work. The show is pretty faithful in certain aspects and when it comes to my character, I remain loyal to her essence. But this version is localised, so what were are doing with our characters is showing them within an Indonesian context.”

This means certain hot-button societal topics were introduced, while certain themes from the original series were discarded or modified.

The series also has a strong anti-bullying message on and off-screen, with actors Anya Geraldine (Hanna), 24, and Yuki Kato (Alissa), 25, publicly detailing their experience of being bullied due to the former’s weight and the latter’s Japanese heritage.

It captures the spirit of Bali

The Indonesian version of 'Pretty Little Liars' was shot in 41 days. Viu
The Indonesian version of 'Pretty Little Liars' was shot in 41 days. Viu

When it comes to shooting in Bali, Huang says the island was not chosen for its idyllic surroundings.

Long viewed as a tourist and trade hub, the freewheeling vibes of the Balinese locale is in line with the carefree nature of the characters.

If the show was set in the more conservative Indonesian capital of Jakarta, she states, none of the characters would ring true.

“The show still has a lot of western touches,” Huang says. “And Bali has always been a place where people in Indonesia can be more expressive, daring and bold. That freedom of Bali is similar to the spirit of the characters of the show.”

While that is the case, Huang says there are still lines not to cross.

She details how the Indonesian version of Pretty Little Liars toned down the romantic scenes of the original in order to adhere to local customs.

“There is no PDA [public displays of affection] because the idea here is that these things should remain behind the curtain,” Huang says. “But everyone understands romance and love, so we translated that in a local way.”

A new opportunity for Indonesian talent

More than the significant online buzz at home and international audience on offer for Pretty Little Liars, what gives Huang the most satisfaction is the chance to shine among the pack.

If you are an actor in Indonesia, she says, then the hustle is real as it is an industry built on tight and enduring partnerships.

Huang hopes the arrival of Viu into the landscape can act as circuit breaker that shows local television and film executives the country is full of untapped talent.

“When it comes to my experience – and this just based on what I have seen – it is normally the same actors being cast because that’s what the market wants. So with platforms like Viu coming here, it gives us more of a chance,” she says.

“But at the same time, the industry is getting much healthier. Ten years ago, I would not have an opportunity to play this role, so it is getting better and better."

Pretty Little Liars is available to stream on Viu. More information is available at www.viu.com

Updated: July 2, 2020 01:34 PM

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