‘Hareem’, Harem Love Stories

Apr 1st, 2009, in Opinion, by

What’s the worst sinetron ever? Ross reels at the sight of Hareem.

Silly Sinetron

As most of my posts tend to be responses to the grimmer aspects of life here (which for most of us expats are presumably outbalanced by the brighter side, otherwise we’d all go somewhere else!) I thought by way of contrast I’d proffer a thread on the theme of which Indonesian soap opera is the silliest, and offer my personal choice as a kick-off.

My own nomination has to be ‘Hareem‘, which runs from mid-till late evening on Indosiar. I should state by way of preface that I don’t exactly revel in watching such programmes, but if you dwell beneath the same roof as a soap-fan, you are willy-nilly compelled to share their delights (albeit while reading a book or using one’s lap-top.)

Having tried thus to exculpate myself, I must at once confess to a fast-acquired, horrid fascination with Hareem, partly because its denizens are so unspeakable as to be almost unbelievable, but also because I have come to wonder if perhaps there is some furtive attempt by the Crusader Zionist Conspiracy to use this soap to discredit Islam.

Crying. Angry. Motorbike Crash. Angry. Pensive.

Since I can’t imagine Berlian or Rob or even Achmad spending their evenings enthralled by Hareem, (and it’s on every evening, Monday- Friday,maybe Saturday too, but I am out then!) I should outline what goes on in its extraordinary world.

It centres on a household whose head likes to walk around in his nightgown all the time – actually, he’s sporting Arab gear (and even, to my own particular joy, a goat-beard!) This irascible guy has four wives, ghastly women for the most part, although the tallest has beautiful big eyes, and is less awful than the others, while the smallest is objectionable only because she’s such a wretched little ‘creeping Jesus’ type, who gets bashed, bullied, and all manner of other maltreatment, yet never fights back.

She’s one of those kind who always lowers her eyes and bows her head when she’s wrongly accused of high crimes and misdemeanours, a door-mat par excellence. The other two wives are apparently ex-slappers, acquired in unclear circumstances by Abi the Goat-Beard, agreeing to don jilbabs and all-encompassing swathes of clothing to win his devotion, but all the time conspiring to rip him off.

The whole gang.

The only half-way likeable person in the show is Abi’s son, who in fact used to date Door-Mat but was usurped by his lusty dad. The wronged lad does his best to maintain a semblance of common decency within the palatial mansion (though if he had an ounce of true grit he’d retrieve D-M and move into a kost somewhere), but he gets precious little thanks – at one point the rather authoritarian Abi had him immersed in a large vat of icy water for some act of filial impiety.

Abi loves to throw his weight around, despite being a weedy sort. Last week he had two of his wives doing push-ups in the garden after their bickering upset him, and an obnoxious step-son was ordered to have his head shaved for another piece of impertinence.

Various serious crimes are committed, including rape, poisoning, kidnapping etc., not forgetting falsifying paternity by switching DNA samples via a corrupt hospital employee, and last Friday night a magical child produced a miracle cure for a badly burnt villainess, who promptly reverted to type and hit Door-Mat with a vase……..

You get the picture.

The thing is, having had similarly vicarious acquaintance with soaps in Western countries, I do expect a degree of detachment from reality; but at no time do the producers of this imbecilic program indicate that they are in the comedy, or more hopefully satire, business.

It portrays these characters, especially Abi, as operating in a devout Muslim context (at one point, one of the nastiest wives went crackers, ran off with a crazy vagrant, and, on being brought home safely – by the nice son, of course – decided to dress like a real woman, with a short skirt, appalling Abi, who grabbed for the nearest covering lest he be affronted by her admittedly not bad knees!) They all go off to prayers on time, invoke Allah’s guidance many times a day, and of course polygamy is de riguer.

Is Indosiar adopting the role of a Muslim Martin Luther in a sneaky sort of way, drily lampooning what it offers the viewers? Or is Hareem presented as a reflection of how lots of people actually live around these parts? I’m amazed that the MUI has not issued a fatwa!

Can anyone else suggest a rival for the silliest?

15 Comments on “‘Hareem’, Harem Love Stories”

  1. Brother Mouzone says:

    but if you dwell beneath the same roof as a soap-fan, you are willy-nilly compelled to share their delights

    I don’t know, Ross… my missus watches Sinetrons also, but I am able to avoid them…

    You, on the other hand, seem to have developed a true soap fan’s knowledge of the plot lines and characters.

    Maybe you could start some sort of regular soap opera update on IM with gossip about the stars and speculation about what’s going to happen next episode.

    I think you’ve found your niche.

  2. David says:

    There have been some complaints about Hareem actually, like Mutammimul Ula from PKS said the main character was so bad he made Islam look bad, etc here. Brother Mouzone’s idea about Our Sinetron Insider is very good though Ross, bears consideration….

  3. Berlian Biru says:

    Like you, I too co-habit with a sinetron fan (her current favourites are Fitri and Marvel) despite what Bro Mouzone says you really don’t have to be paying much attention to the tv to pick up fairly rapidly what’s going on, and like western soaps you can even miss an entire week’s output and still catch up with the “plot” within about 5 minutes.

    I find the best defences against sinetrons (and it has to be said some of the actresses are stunning, I could watch them reading the Sukabumi telephone directory and still enjoy their performances) are, as Ross said, a decent book and also a cheap bottle of Aussie plonk, alas both commodities are getting harder and harder to locate in this town.

  4. Lairedion says:

    Been too long away from Indonesia to have any opinion on today’s sinetron.

    When I return to Indonesia for good (which is due in 3 years) I simply dive in solely for the purpose of watching beautiful actresses (if they’re not all jilbabed at that time).

  5. Ross says:

    Just how influential is Indonesia Matters?
    I’d never given it much thought till I got home last night and found that Hareem had already begun, and lo, all the characters had donned normal clothes, Abi had shaved of his goat-beard and, even more inexplicably, many had altered their names, so that Abi is now Romo! All change, within 24 hours of IM attention.
    In terms of watchability, this is of course a vast improvement, for the girls’ glossy black hair and comely limbs now enhance whatever acting ability they may be deemed to have. They remain a nasty gang of wretches, though it was pleasing to see two of them hitting the booze, much to Abi (Romo)’s dismay. He should have tried a wee dram, do him the world of good!

    But it is truly baffling; nor can my cinetron consultant account for the transformation.A neat April Fool thing, maybe?

    As to the honour of becoming IM’s ‘Our Cinetron Insider,’ on a bad day I’d take that as the opening salvo of the putative ‘insult duel,’ but, on reflection, the position has a certain allure – the starlets are easy on the eye! And I could adopt Berlian’s idea and use it as an excuse to fortify myself with miras as soon as I got home from work!

    Re Patung’s reference to the PKS, I also noted in the JP (1/4) that their spokesman is getting his chadur in a twist about polygamy, or rather its possible effect on women’s votes when their candidates are exposed as multi-wived carnal gluttons. He thinks that ladies who vote on a clearly moral basis would be behaving ‘irrationally.’

    Has Indosiar perhaps had representations on polygamous Hareem from the loonies, and pressure brought to bear to have horrid characters appear less ostentatiously Islamic?
    It’s a stretch, I know, but Indonesia is a stretchy place and the tv stations are notably susceptible to political manipulation, as we know every time Suryo Paleh’s very non-goatish beard bristles out at us on Metro.See report in yesterday’s Globe.

  6. David says:

    Ross, don’t they film these things weeks in advance? They don’t do it live do they? Anyway look forward to the next report on goings on in the Abi, oops, Romo household (Isn’t ‘Romo’ a term of reference for Catholic priests?)

    Just how influential is Indonesia Matters?

    Um not a great deal I expect. In fact even the two English language national newspapers have no influence, but we’ve been there before. If it’s in English, nobody cares I suspect.

  7. diego says:


    Romo is a javanese-hindu word, from the name Romoyono. 😀

  8. hary says:

    Any one ever caught Muslimah with the freaky 3 eyed baby?
    I switch channels between that and Starworld on Mondays to see which I find funnier.

  9. David says:

    Is this the little tyke from Muslimah? Muslimah is a shocker yes, there are whole playlists of Muslimah episodes on youtube, like here, oddly enough I couldn’t find any youtube videos for Hareem, which is telling me something, that noone cares enough about it to video the episodes, edit and upload to youtube, well, except Ross, caring I mean. 🙂

  10. Samantha says:

    Talking about sinetron, I was wondering if anyone ever noticed that besides a Door-Mat, a must-have for every sinetron is an accident (traffic or otherwise) where one of the main characters ends up in the hospital with a bandaged head with “blood” seeping through those bandages. Just how ridiculous is that? They never break a leg (and I suppose they also never “break a leg” – hence the atrocious performances), or an arm, etc. And if someone were to have a head injury, that’s so not the way to bandage them…

    And after the 5 minutes of the accident in slow motion with the same frames being repeated a thousand times, switching all the while with the face of the witness in rapid succession, the people ‘helping’ the victim actually SHAKE them. Yeah, let’s aggravate that neck injury, babe! No wonder people don’t understand what to do when an (traffic) accident occurs, after all it’s ‘monkey see, monkey do’!

  11. Ross says:

    Yes, Samantha, you are quite correct. The accidents are a wonder to watch, and nobody ever thinks to change their bandages.
    I’ve begun to lose interest in Hareem, not so much fun since they all began to wear normal clothes yet failing to shed their monstrous personalities. Too much like East Enders, unless my memory fails me, or Neighbours!

  12. Berlian Biru says:

    Yes, the accident victim sitting in bed in hospital with the dab of blood on his pristine white bandage is a dead cert as is the age of the doctors who will look like they just finished SMA and are now in modelling school. They’re almost as young and handsome as the successful businessmen whose businesses seem to involve nothing more strenuous than reading two pieces of paper on their otherwise empty desks and wearing lots of hair gel.

    It’s odd how young the businessmen and doctors appear given that the many schoolgirls all look like they’re nearly 30.

  13. diego says:

    lots of hair gel???
    oh no…. let’s blame mexican telenovelas, from which they apparently copied the style…..

  14. Odinius says:

    Like Rambo before it, Hareem is unintentional satire par excellence. Good to see Indonesians contributing to the genre! 😉

  15. diego says:

    Hmm… Ross,

    Have you watched television lately?
    They already changed the title to “Inayah”

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