The very first scenes of Indak opens to the nervous halls of a studio. We see the anticipation in it before we get to the gist of what’s going on. Our dancing team: Indak Pinas prepares for the competition of their lives, while also worrying about their missing member and as they make their way to the stage, Jen (Nadine Lustre) appears as nervous as they are.
The film then jumps back to the months prior to this and shifts to an introductory dance scene at the beaches of Bantayan Island in Cebu. In an upbeat dance number to “Cebuana”, we are introduced to Jen, a native of the island along with her family. It’s an almost impressive dance number, that reminds you a bit of Mamma Mia: the beach scene, the fishermen dancing along as they prepare to sea and the locals selling their handcraft accessories.
Jen takes the center stage, in her own introduction: she dances on the floors of her own boat and tells the audience she moves along with the sea. It’s quite apparent immediately that Jen dances comfortably, alone. We later learn from her mother that dancing is her passion, but a humiliating event from her childhood makes her incapable of doing so in front of a crowd. A group of tourists films her performance and with the power of the internet, she transforms into a sensation.
Vin played by Sam Concepcion, the leader of Indak Pinas sees her performance and instantly believes that she is the missing piece of the team. He tries to coax her into joining the team, but Jen’s reluctance because of her economic status and trauma from her childhood memories restrains her from taking the offer. This would have been a great place to explore Jen’s character, but the story doesn’t explore these fears nor her livelihood as a local tour guide. Rather, it shoves this potential into a formula that doesn’t feel genuine. In one of the very first scenes of Vin and Jen: Vin gets stung by a jellyfish and Jen tells him to pee on its marks to counter it, as Jen watches Vin solve this dilemma, she smiles cheekily. Watching it unfold feels awkward and forced. What could’ve been their charming individual performances can’t save the lack of romantic chemistry from the two leads.
It’s Jen’s mother that nudges her to take the risk in joining Indak Pinas so she can watch her daughter achieve her dreams, that she’s long forgone. It is this belief in her that Jen finally takes the offer and joins Vin in Manila. This is where she meets Team Indak and all but one member, the intimidating Steph welcomes her warmly. Indak is a group whose members also hail from different parts of the country and sympathize with Jen’s plight.
Indak doesn’t feel like a film itself but a very long music video intertwined with the occasional dance performance. The story feels loose, often jampacked with a lot of subplots that doesn’t make a coherent narrative. It tries to introduce a lot of character revelations that pulls at one another. We are shown that Vin is attracted to Jen and vice versa, but neither the scenes beforehand tells us that there was anything but a friendly gesture at each other. At one point, Steph tells Vin that Jen is nothing but trouble and that he should leave her. It then moves to the trio: Jen-Vin and Steph singing their qualms and frustrations. Jen still worried about her sickly mother, Vin worrying about Jen’s absence and Steph singing about her past fling with Vin. Even the editing isn’t coherent enough to give us the gist of the picture.
Indak has heart and its potential lies with its heart. It could have focused on the group’s internal struggles and explored their motivations into joining the competition rather than focusing on the lackluster romance between Vin and Jen. The motivation is obviously always money, but the film doesn’t shed light on the team as a bunch of struggling passionate dancers. It occasionally peppers their individual money struggles in between, but the result shows them nothing more but performers, something to watch and cheer for, only. But there’s no insight towards their lives as working people chasing their own dreams, nor the difficulty of it. We don’t know how they all managed to get through the day, only that they love what they do—dancing. Jen talks about honesty and trust, but rather than delving into her interactions with the team, it chooses to focus on Vin’s attraction towards her.
Indak could have been good. It had the potential but refused to remove itself from its formulaic bounds. The result is a lackluster spectacle of a film dancing out of sync to its own beat. Nevertheless, it’s still a performance worth of the occasional amusement.
[screencap from Viva Films]