Reza Rahadian as Chairil Anwar and Marsha Timothy as Ida Nasution in 'Perempuan-Perempuan Chairil' ('The Women of Chairil') in the Jakarta Theater at Taman Ismail Marzuki, Central Jakarta in November. (JG Photo/Sheany)

'Perempuan-Perempuan Chairil' Offers Glimpses of Poet's Failed Romances, Loneliness


NOVEMBER 13, 2017

Jakarta. "You hunt women, yet you never capture their hearts," Ida Nasution told poet Chairil Anwar in the play "Perempuan-Perempuan Chairil" ("The Women of Chairil"), staged in the Jakarta Theater at Taman Ismail Marzuki, Central Jakarta, over the weekend.

The play presented fragmented stories of the women in Chairil's life through what is called a "poetic biography." The poet was known to have his way with the ladies, yet he was prone to failed relationships due to his free-spirited personality.

"I am a wild animal," he said in his most famous poem "Aku" ("I").

Moreover, his intellectual appetite always kept him untouched by the real world. He would spend his money on books instead of decent meals or clothes, and he could not stand working in offices. He was headstrong about his ambition to become a successful poet.

The play began with Chairil's monologue on why he was with many different women.

"It is the women who throw themselves at me," Chairil said smugly.

Prolific actor Reza Rahadian delivered a captivating performance from the start, eloquently articulating the poetry in his conversations as if it were his way of talking.

As he finished his monologue, a prostitute arrived. Chairil's attempt to resist her, of course, ended in defeat. What followed was not a romantic comedy with a happy ending, but a tragic tale on how he only managed to keep women in his works, not in reality.

The Four Women

Of the many women for whom Chairil wrote poems, the play picked four to highlight: Ida Nasution, Sri Ajati, Sumirat and Hapsah.

The general storyline primarily refers to the 2016 biography "Chairil" by Hasan Asphani, who was among the play's scriptwriters.

Director and co-scriptwriter Agus Noor told reporters after the show on Saturday afternoon (11/11) that each woman represented a different type of love. Ida represented Chairil's yearning for an intellectual equal, in Sri it was his admiration for aesthetic beauty, in Sumirat it was sexual passion, and in Hapsah, the reality he had to face as a husband and head of a family.

Though Agus captured the stories of every woman in specific moments, the intense interactions reveal a lot about each pair.

The scene with Chairil and Ida was set in the latter's office. Chairil attempted to charm Ida, yet she always turned him down, aware of his reputation as a womanizer. Little did she know that she was the love of his life. She also appeared between scenes as a figment of Chairil's imagination.

Ida was known as an intelligent literature student, translator and essayist who was fluent in both Dutch and French. Marsha Timothy as Ida delivered a wonderful performance in her stage debut, bringing a feisty, witty character to life.

Chairil experienced another rejection with the cheerful Sri Ajati, played by Chelsea Islan. Sri was a talented radio anchor and aspiring stage actress, admired by many for her beauty. Maestro Basoeki Abdullah even painted her once.

Chelsea Islan as Sri Ajati, right, being wooed by Chairil. (JG Photo/Dhania Sarahtika)

In the playful scene, Chairil tried to woo the oblivious Sri. There was always considerable distance between them, indicating Chairil's longing. In reality, Sri never knew about Chairil's crush until reading his poem "Senja di Pelabuhan Kecil" ("Twilight at the Little Harbor") years later.

The third segment was set in a bedroom, signifying Chairil and Sumirat's passionate relationship. Her family pressured her to marry someone with a decent job, yet she still gave the poor Chairil a chance.

Still clinging to his ambition of  becoming a famous poet, Chairil refused to settle down, coming up with excuses. There were wounds in his heart he wished she could see, he said.

"It is as if you needed those wounds to write," Sumirat replied.

Thus ended the relationship with Sumirat, played by Tara Basro. It seemed as if Tara was still finding the right intonation to convey her lines, especially in the parts taken from Chairil's poems, though overall, she successfully portrayed the coquettish, upfront Mirat.

Sumirat, played by Tara Basro, threatens to leave Chairil if he does not marry her soon. (JG Photo/Dhania Sarahtika)

Hapsah Wiriaredja was the last woman, the one Chairil finally married, despite his financial unpreparedness. Hapsah, the ordinary civil servant, wanted Chairil to be a responsible husband and soon-to-be father with a well-paying job, but the idealistic poet would not budge.

Compared to the previous women, Hapsah was physically larger, which saw Chairil affectionately addressing her as "Gadjah" ("Elephant").

Ahda Imran, the co-scriptwriter who wrote the Hapsah segment, said Chairil was spoilt by his mother and he seemed to have an Oedipus complex, as evident in his tendency to fall for women who were older and rather plump.

In the play, Chairil also always complimented Hapsah on her eyes, which resembled his mother's.

Hapsah, played by Sita Nursanti, was not at all familiar with poetry and her inability to understand Chairil's poems added some comic moments that had the audience laughing.

However, the ending was bitter. Chairil left the pregnant Hapsah, which was a twist of history, considering that it was Hapsah who supposedly banished him when their daughter, Evawani Alissa, was about a year old.

Chairil, the Lone Wolf

"There you die by the claws of silence," Hapsah told herself, quoting a line from the poem "Sia-sia" ("In Vain"), yet it sounded more relevant to Chairil's condition.

After Hapsah, Chairil went to painting maestro Affandi to vent and ask for a place to stay. It served as another twist, as he originally went to another painter, Soedarso.

In between his rant, he coined the term "Boeng Ajo Boeng!" ("Come On, Guys!") for a revolution-themed poster Affandi was working on. Chairil got this from what female prostitutes would say to attract clients.

As Affandi started painting the poster, Chairil's rant becomes a soliloquy. He faced the audience, telling them about his woes, and in his prideful way, how he hoped things could have gone differently.

In reality, Chairil had an epiphany that made him work hard just to win Hapsah back. He fell ill and died before seeing his books achieve the success he deserved. Nobody accompanied him during his last moments, not even his women.

Chairil hugs the pregnant Hapsah, played by Sita Nursanti. (Photo courtesy of Image Dynamics)

In his book "Chairil," Hasan quotes Sutan Sjahrir, a statesman and the poet's uncle, who says Chairil never got the chance to "live a thousand years more" as he said in the poem "Aku," because he never felt at peace.

"He was rushing to feel the joy of living for a thousand years. To comply with that urge, Chairil wounded, offended and caused people to feel hurt, yet he never did that on purpose. He felt that what he did was right and he stood by it…"

"Perempuan-Perempuan Chairil" was an intense, wistful take on Chairil's life. Though compressed, it showed more sides of Chairil than just a mythologized bohemian. Despite his flaws, Chairil always showed that he was brave enough to love, even if it ended in pieces.

"Chairil always needed to have someone to love. Once he lost someone, he would be lost. [...] Romantic poets always take women as representations of their ideal world. It is not just something libidinal. Being loved by a woman is their ideal world," Ahda said.