Children's TV show combines fun with moral message
By R. Masri Sareb Putra
JAKARTA (JP): Saras 008 is one of the most popular children's TV programs. Legions of children eagerly await its broadcast on Indosiar private TV station at 7:30 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday.
Consisting of 100 episodes and first broadcast in mid-November 1998, it dwells on the duel between virtue and vice, respectively symbolized by the show's opposing protagonists, Saras and Mr. Black.
It revolves around a simple plot; it could be said Saras 008 is an imitator of Power Rangers, the popular imported TV program.
Power Rangers casts foreigners and is set abroad, but this show is a fully domestic product. The director, cast and the moral messages are uniquely Indonesian. Settings may include Ragunan Zoo or Ancol Dreamland.
An even greater draw for viewers are the cast members and guest stars, including child entertainer Joshua, famous for his song Diobok-obok, and Sindy Dewiana starring as Saras.
What is the charm of the show?
Dramatist and film observer-director Putu Wijaya said the adventure-packed program was suitable for children but adults, himself included, could also tune in.
"It is amazing that our family enjoys greater intimacy thanks to the show. When the program is aired, all family members see it together," he said.
"In one episode, my three-year-old child started sobbing when Bil and Bud, the two underlings of Mr. Black, the film's antagonist, kidnapped Joshua. I had to persuade my child to stop crying, saying that a good child like Joshua, could never be defeated. Saras would soon come to free him from Mr. Black."
Which is what always happens in the series. In her endeavors to fight vice, Saras may seem to be losing. Eventually, however, in the deliberate play on suspense, she emerges victorious.
Saras is always ready to help those fighting evil. First, of course, the person must call her by pressing her code number 008, as in the lyrics of the title song. Which is the obvious tie-in with PT Indosat, the satellite telecommunications company sponsoring the series.
Saras is resourceful and endowed with magic powers. Facing a criminal, she changes from her given name of Saraswati to assume the identity of Saras 008. She becomes a cat in human form wearing an eye patch. The story has it that Saraswati was contaminated by the blood of a cat, which allows her to turn herself into a cat whenever she wishes. Sparring off against the bad guys, Saras draws on her feline prowess.
In her fight to stamp out crime committed by Mr. Black and his underlings, Saras is assisted by Yudhis, a private investigator. Also on hand is her younger brother, Gagas, who is smart, highly skilled with his computer and notable for his thick glasses.
Storylines and endings are often difficult to guess, keeping viewers in suspense from beginning to end.
When Saras is transformed into a cat in human form, she focuses intensely and pounces on the victim with her paws. Transformation occurs in dim lights and a swirl of smoke.
Excellent graphic techniques help the show.
"In fact, it is the artistic effects of the film that capture the viewers' attention," said Gusur Adhikarya, director of the series. "It is the touch of technology which gives a vivid impression, as though Saras can transform herself into another form, fly and look super in everything. We use a graphic computer to produce such effects."
Special effects are also used to make the eyes of Saras and Mr. Black beam light. It is also shown when Yudhis' pistol is fired. A laser machine is used to produce colors of red, green or yellow.
Adra, a staff member of the production division, acknowledged it was a costly show to produce. "If the production of a 30- minute program costs about Rp 50 million, our show is more than that."
What is the mission of the series?
Indosiar touts it as entertainment, but also claims its has moral, social and cultural messages to get across to its viewing audience, particularly children.
Despite the crisis, the producer believes children are not easily swayed from their viewing patterns; they want to see things like Power Rangers and Black Steel Knight, which is why it the show closely imitates them.
The show's producers state their objective to show the difference between good and bad characters. Children learn which characters are worthy of idolizing and which traits should be imitated, the producers claim.
They tout Saras as a figure worth idolizing by children, particularly girls. They attribute this to the fact she is a good fighter and also pretty. She is agile and quick. She is lithe, able to jump, kick and do her somersaults admirably.
Sindy looks perfect in her role as Saras because she is a national gymnast. She won two golds and two silvers in the 13th National Games in Jakarta in 1992. She also won a bronze at the TASA Games in Bangkok in 1992. Although born on Nov. 15, 1979, Sindy has become an admired figure among children.
"This proves that the protagonist in a good children's film is not necessarily a child," Putu Wijaya said. He praised the directors, Baharuddin and Gusur.
A lecturer in the School of Letters, University of Indonesia, Ismail Marahimim drew similarities between children's reading materials and programs geared to them. A successful children's program must have adventure as its frame and contain a "virus" between children's reading stuff and children's films. Just like a children's book, a successful children's film As defined by McClelland in his dictionary of psychology, this "virus" is called as "the need for achievement" (n-Ach).
Every good children's program must contain n-Ach. Besides entertaining, it must also be educative. In Saras 008, said Marahimin, there was another good element. The film is imbued with high optimism, that people can have the courage to change their destiny and an unyielding attitude.
"This has made the program very popular among children. Wise parents will recommend this film to their children," he said.
Marahimin, a senior lecturer and writer of children's books, hopes the pattern would be adopted by other Indonesian children's films.
As in Britain and the rest of Europe, it is the n-Ach element in books and films that prompts people to be high achievers. And the need for achievement will bolster a nation to make progress.