‘Mengalami Kemanusiaan’ will showcase 19 Indonesian films during April. (Photos courtesy of Babibuta Film)

Another Kind of Indonesian Blockbuster

APRIL 16, 2015

Transgender hairdresser Muhammad Zein “Renita” Pundagau heads back to his home village in South Sulawesi after trying his luck in Jakarta for more than 20 years.

A prodigal son who left home after he was disowned by his religious father over his choices, Renita has no idea about the surprises in store for him on his homecoming, or how it will force him to rethink his perspective.

Renita’s odyssey is recounted in the 2012 film “Mangga Golek Matang Di Pohon” ( “The Mangoes”), a documentary by filmmaker Tonny Trimarsanto. 

Made by the Rumah Dokumenter Klaten production house, the film took an unflinching look at transgender people like Renita and his best friend Ari Reza “Sha Sha” Buchori by portraying their world through a series of juxtapositions. 

These include the contrasts between their aspirations of a better life with their squalid surroundings, as well as big city dreams with their small town origins. 

Tonny’s approach went a long way in humanizing a marginalized, misunderstood part of society which is viewed as an annoying caricature at best, or a travesty at worst.

“Mangga Golek Matang Di Pohon” is one of 19 films featured in “Mengalami Kemanusiaan” or “Experiencing Humanity,” a retrospective held every weekend in April at the Taman Ismail Marzuki cultural center’s Kineforum cinema to mark National Film Month. 

Presented by #KolektifJakarta, Film Musik Makan and the Lab Laba Laba film club the films chosen portray a broader picture of Indonesia than most locally produced works.

The films span nearly 40 years of Indonesian cinema, ranging from late film great Arifin C. Noer’s classic “Suci Sang Primadona” (“Suci the Primadonna”) and box office hits like “Arisan!” and “The Gathering,” “Eliana Eliana” and “Selamat Pagi, Malam” (released with the English language title “In the Absence of the Sun”).

“During the New Order era, [the government] coined the term SARA, an acronym standing for ethnicity, religion, race and inter-group relations. This means Indonesian films were discouraged from showing diversity for fear of offending certain groups and disrupting peace and order,” said festival organizer Meiske Taurisia, who added that SARA has been updated to SARA(S) to include sexuality. 

“[The government] still coerces [conformity in film] through the Film Censorship Board and the Regional Film Censorship Board, who assume that society is impressionable, weak minded and easily provoked. We believe that humanity is a real experience, not merely an idea or concept. The films share what it feels to be human by inviting us to feel and digest their experiences,” Meiske said.

“The films show that SARA(S) is an inevitable part of human identity that can’t be swept under the rug. To avoid SARA(S) issues is to deny the very essence of humanity.”

While “Mangga Golek Matang Di Pohon” explores the taboo aspects of gender, other films “Cleaning the Fish” and “Sendiri Diana Sendiri” cast an unflinchingly critical eye on marriage and its sacrosanct elevation in Indonesia. 

Directed by Myrna Paramita Pohan, “Cleaning the Fish” explores a young housewife’s disillusionment with married life. Myrna’s 16-minute film contrasts the drudgery of the protagonists’s chores and surroundings with her initial hopes through flashbacks to the pomp of her wedding. 

On the other hand, “Sendiri Diana Sendiri” chronicles Diana’s (portrayed by actress Raihaanun) efforts to put her life together after her husband announces he will practice polygamous by marrying another woman. 

The disaster forces Diana to question Javanese tradition which calls on wives to accept their lot, as well as the double standards in applying marital law.  

“[‘Sendiri, Diana Sendiri’] has twists which weren’t too obvious at its outset, namely how children are often more strong and mature than their parents, even as they are caught up in the conflict between them. They also proved to be a source of emotional stability” said director of the film Kamila Andini.

“Paradoxically, Diana’s experiences freed her, as she is proven to hold the keys to her freedom.”