The Earth is Getting Hotter: Urban Inferno and Outsider Women’s Collectives in Bumi Makin Panas


Ali Shahab’s controversial 1973 film Bumi Makin Panas (The Earth is Getting Hotter) paints a scalding portrait of rapid urbanization and capitalization during Indonesia’s early New Order years. Jakarta, the capital city, if not quite hell, is closer to a Marxian state of truth in which ideology – for Marx a pervasive, camera obscura-like “inversion” of the actual state of affairs under capitalism – appears to have suddenly capsized; set in a seething urban reality of open hypocrisy, exploitation, and violence, the film functions as material nightmare to the vapid moralist-humanist dreams produced and sold by the state and its agents. Yet while Marx sought to ground his critique in “real, active men, and on the basis of their real life-process” (1947: 47), Shahab, who also wrote Bumi Makin Panas, perceived a different locus of truth: the brothel and its female laborers. As a magnet for those perhaps most thoroughly (and quickly) dispossessed by Indonesia’s rapid shift to the right following the rise of Suharto seven years earlier – poor, formally uneducated women – Shahab sees in the brothel a central node of the morally bankrupt urban economy. Yet therein lies its ostensibly utopian potential as a collective space in which women simultaneously cater to, and learn to understand, exploit and shield themselves from, the unbridled “male” desire (pervading both men and women in positions of power) that is burning through city and nation.