Cigarette Girl – Season 1 Episode 1 “Jeng Yah” Recap & Review

Jeng Yah

Episode 1 of Gadis Kretek aka Cigarette Girl starts in the past. We see a woman dressed in fine, traditional Indonesian clothing trailing about the room.

Then the scene cuts to Jakarta in 2001. An ailing Raja lies on his bed. He shows signs of instability and the health monitor beeps fervently. His wife goes out to call for the nurse, while Raja is dreaming about his past featuring a mysterious woman. He wakes up with a jolt and says the name Jeng Yah. Raja hands a key to Lebas and urges him to find Jeng Yah, saying it is imperative. 

The scene shifts to Lebas heading to his father’s office. He opens the safe and finds a letter with an old photograph. The letter is written by Jeng Yah, and within which expresses the four things that are etched in her memory.

With this letter, we are taken back to Kota M in 1964 where we are introduced to Jeng Yah aka Dasiyah. She is a young, unmarried woman who dreams of helming a great business like her father does.

She talks to her father about the new batch of tobacco from Mr Budi which is a mixed one. She asks her pa to have a word with Mr Budi but he does not want to spoil his acquaintance with him. When she continues to protest, he offers her to visit the market with him where she can talk to Mr Budi.

Jeng Yah’s younger sister arrives at the factory. She shows a new cigarette packet from her friend Purwanti, saying that a certain Mr Djagad is going to launch the Proklamasi Kretek with new packaging. They have received good funding and are also planning to launch in the West. 

Her father dismisses the prospective success by saying that Mr Djagad’s product is inferior to his and that Mr Djagad is only trying to copy the flavours. Jeng Yah’s father summons Mr Dibjo to the office to discuss a matter. Jeng Yah looks longingly at the office, for she dreams to go in there someday.

She gets very little support from her mother though. She’s more concerned about getting Jeng Yah married. Her father allows her to help around the factory but he does not let her produce a new cigarette flavour. Jeng Yah, her sister and her father head to the market. 

Modern day, modern problems

We are brought back to the present. Lebas’ older brother Tegar berates him for featuring in the tabloids again. He advises Lebas to show some responsibility towards their company. Karim, his other brother, just asks him to stop socialising with competition. Lebas fakes to listen and proceeds to inform about his quest to find Jeng Yah.

Lebas visits his father and asks about Jeng Yah. The two quarrel about Lebas’ way of life but Raja soon softens. His dad breaks down and asks Lebas to please find her at all costs since he does not have long left. 

Lebas arrives at M City to find Jeng Yah. Karim tells him to meet the museum director Mrs Sri. Lebas resumes reading the letter. Jeng Yah voices her desire for freedom, but unfortunately it is not in her control. She also voices her desire to be something more and something different than what has been chalked down for her.

She is at the market where almost everyone stares at her. She, her father and her sister head to Mr Budi’s shop. Her sister leaves to meet her friend Purwanti. Jeng Yah settles in a small coffee hut and is working when she overhears a conversation. A group of men asks for Merkdeka cigarettes but another man offers them a different brand saying that brand is tastier.

Women in business? How odd!

The man turns out to be Mr Djagad of Proklamasi cigarettes. He sees Jeng Yah and tells her that no man would marry her if she smells of cigarettes. Her father comes up at the table. His voice is nothing but challenging when talking to Mr Djagad. Mr Djagad leaves and meets Mr Budi.

Jeng Yah’s father’s name is Idroes. So, Mr Idroes, Jeng Yah and Mr Budi meet up. They discuss the matter of mixed tobacco. Mr Budi says that women have no place in the cigarette industry. Jeng Yah hands over the advanced payment and says that she was born in the factory and knows the smell very well. Mr Budi offers a special batch of tobacco.

A chaos breaks out in the market. A man is being chased and beaten. Jeng Yah’s sister and Purwanti also watch along with the rest of the crowd. The man being beaten sees Jeng Yah and still. She feels seen for the first time.

We are now back in 2001. Lebas is at the cigarette museum where he meets Mrs Sri. He stops to look at one of the installations and resumes reading the letter. We are back in Jeng Yah’s world. She and her sister are tending to a batch of tobacco. They are making cigarettes for their father. Her younger sister’s name is revealed to be Rukayah.

Their father comes home and introduces a man to their mother. The man is the one who was getting beaten at the market earlier. His name is Soeraja. His father assigns the maid, Marem, to find work within the house for Soeraja.

Soeraja is Raja. He has cleaned up well and is working at Mr Idroes’ factory. Jeng Yah asks him if he has worked at a factory before. She says that she helps her father because he does not have a son. The two don’t actually start on the right foot. She asks the women at the factory to help Raja learn a task. 

At the dinner table, Jeng Yah’s mother asks Raja about his past. Mr Idroes says that he found potential in Raja so he took him in. When Jeng Yah’s mother asks how Raja came to M City, he said that he is from the south. He had helped  a few families deal with loan sharks, but he dealt with the wrong person. He was harassed.

Who is Raja?

Mr Idroes comments that his parents must be worried to which Raja says that he is an orphan. Mr Idoes gives Raja a Dutch language book to read to confirm if he has received any education. Raja says that he did go to school since his parents worked for the Dutchmen.

At the age of 14, he helped indigenous people. He was paid for writing letters but after the Dutchmen left, his family was persecuted and he had to flee since the indigenous people did not like having people around who worked with the Dutchmen.

The next day, Jeng Yah goes to receive the inventory from Mr Budi instead of her father. She checks some of the material and says that it is not the same as what Mr Budi had shown in the market the other day. Mr Budi gets angry and says that a cigarette vendor is nothing without a tobacco vender. He tells Jeng Yah to just sit at home and find a husband.

Raja consoles Jeng Yah. He offers his help to find a new tobacco vendor from the north. He had worked in that region and knows a few farmers who could help. The next days pass by in a daily routine. Jeng Yah resumes her chores at the house and at the factory. Rukayah and Purwanti giggle over Raja working among the ladies.

Mr Idroes is annoyed to see Mr Djagad copying the Merdeka brand again. Raja and Jeng Yah work in tandem. She also helps him roll a cigarette. He sees her wait outside her father’s office and return without moving ahead. The two head to the market to distribute the new batch of cigarettes.

Jeng Yah loses her footing and Raja catches her in time. The same night Jeng Yah tells Raja that despite their Merdeka brand being the popular cigarette, they might lose to the competition if they don’t change. She wishes that her father would listen to her. 

Raja says that her father does pay attention to her. He envies the familial environment. Jeng Yah sternly says that she won’t let Raja sabotage all that she has fought for so far. Raja offers his help instead in order to repay the debt her family has on him.

She asks his help to get into Mr Dibjo, the mixer’s office. She expresses her wish to create her own cigarette flavour. Mr Dibjo forbids women from entering the room saying that women’s hands will make the cigarettes taste sour.

How will Lebas find Jeng Yah?

We are back in 2001. Sri, the director of the cigarette museum, meets with Lebas and introduces Nur, who is in charge of the collection within the museum. Lebas enquiries about the photo.

Nur gives a short history based on the photo and offers Lebas to read some of the available documents. Nur says that the place is under renovation owing to the new collection coming in from a new donor. Lebas asks Sri if he could meet with this donor. Sri confirms.

Back to Jeng Yah’s time. The people are celebrating the 19th Independence day of Indonesia but Jeng Yah is getting her work done. Raja sees Jeng Yah and the two have a small chat. Raja shows her the tobacco leaf he got from his farmer friend in the north. 

Jeng Yah is happy with the quality but worries that her father won’t buy an expensive lot of tobacco. Raja says that that kind of tobacco does not need to be used much. Jeng Yah asks if they could buy small batches.

Raja says that he has already spoken to the farmers and they promise to give a good price if Medreka becomes a regular customer. Jeng Yah smiles at the prospect of securing a good deal. Raja and Jeng Yah share a tender moment.

Back to 2001, Tegar calls Lebas. Lebas is annoyed that Karim let his secret out. Tegar also spoke to their mother about this matter of Jeng Yah and she is annoyed.

Back to Jeng Yah’s time. On the night of the 19th Independence day, Mr Idroes announces that Mr Tira, the owner of Boekit Klapa Kretek intends to marry his son to Jeng Yah. Jeng Yah’s father also stresses that it might be difficult to turn down the proposal. Her parents have already accepted the proposal. The marriage is fixed for next year and the groom’s family will be visiting soon.

In 2001, Lebas meets the new donor whose name is Arum. She sees the picture in Lebas’ possession and asks why he has a picture of her mother just as the episode ends.

The Episode Review

In episode 1 of Cigarette Girl, we are introduced to the main character, Jeng Yah aka Dasiyah. She is quite the resilient woman and is determined to forge her own path.

The episode also gave a glimpse into the Indonesia of 1960’s. The history, the culture, the people and the society were all developing owing to the newly gained independence from not so long ago. Indonesia was also colonised and we can see the remnants of that past as well. However, this was quite the delightful episode to watch!


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