Garin Nugroho made his directorial debut with 1991's Cinta dalam Sepotong Roti (Love in a Slice of Bread) which was selected as Best Film in that year's Indonesian Film Festival. Nugroho was selected as the Best Young Director at the Asia Pacific Film Festival in Seoul the next year. His next movie, Surat untuk Bidadari (Letter for an Angel), won Best Film at the Taormina Film Festival and the Tokyo International Film Festival, while Nugroho received Best Director at the Pyongyang International Film Festival and Young Filmmakers Jury award at the Berlin International Film Festival. His film Daun di Atas Bantal (Leaf on a Pillow) also won Tokyo International Film Festival, in 1998. He was commissioned by the Austrian Government to make a film for the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth. The result was Opera Jawa, based on the Ramayana and produced by Simon Fields.
In 2008 Nugroho returned to theatre with The Iron Bed (Ranjang Besi), adapted from Opera Jawa. The play was shown at the Zürcher Theater Spektakel in Zurich, Switzerland. The trilogy was then followed with Tusuk Konde (Hairpin) and completed earlier this year with Selendang Merah (Red Shawl).
Garin Nugroho’s aspiration for the stage incarnation of his master work Opera Jawa is to stage the entire trilogy, described and surtitled in a major arts festival.
Opera Jawa Trilogy is a trilogy of musical plays adapted from the Ramayana. The love triangle of Rama-Shinta-Rahwana was depicted in various ways and interpretations in the three plays;
The Iron Bed is a portrait of an animal and human struggle, how animal behaviours are often demonstrated by holier-than-thou figures, while on the other side, animal instincts are disguised beneath human masks. The four-scene opera has a linear story structure, like the performing pattern of langendriyan -- the classical Javanese opera, combined with the wayang orang traditional theater, allowing the audience to easily follow the story.
Tusuk Konde, the second in Garin’s trilogy Opera Jawa, differs somewhat from Ranjang Besi (Iron Bed). Not only in that the play depicts the Ramayana Trilogy as it is but that the dancers are also the singers. Tusuk Konde is basically a blend of different traditional Javanese dances such as dolalak and thayub, traditional theater performances such as kethoprak and other ancient rituals, accompanied by blends of various musical forms such as Javanese macapat, campursari, Banyumasan songs and even contemporary jazz.
In the Javanese tayub tradition, getting the red shawl, also known as ketiban sampur is like receiving one’s fate. It can be an honor, blessing, burden or tragedy. Using this notion, Selendang Merah tries to depict the fate of the lesser men that humans have become throughout their lives. The play is a blend of Tayuban from the coastal Central Java with traditions from East Java such as limpang and ngremo as well as from other places such as Minang and Nias.