Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Mendadak Dangdut

Just saw Mendadak Dangdut (Suddenly Dangdut) with Aviva - a late night treat courtesy of youtube ( This Indonesian-language film by director Rudy Soedjarwo is the story of arrogant pop singer Petris (played by the beautiful Titi Kamal), who flees the police along with her loyal manager Yulia when 5 kilos of heroin belonging to Yulia's boyfriend are found in Petris' car. The couple take refuge with Rizal, a keyboard player who runs an Organ Tunggal operation that is well known 'from Depok to Krawang.' Petris has to learn a new musical idiom - and a moral lesson that dangdut is a language of direct communication between singer and audience that can assuage angry feelings and fill people with hope.

It is a sentimental film, and one that in many ways harks back to an earlier time in Indonesian drama, but very satisfying on a number of registers. I particularly enjoyed the intimate backstage look at Organ Tunggal, a musical genre that emerged in the pesisir of Java circa 1998 when I was doing my field work in Cirebon.

Thank you youtube for this and hundreds more Indonesian language films!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Ki Ledjar Subroto

My daughter Hannah had to write a biography or autobiography as a homework assignment for school this week. We decided that she would write on Ki Ledjar Subroto, a Wayang Kancil puppeteer and puppet maker in Yogyakarta. Hannah did a workshop with Ki Ledjar at the Pasar Malam Besar last May, and is hoping to study with him in Yogya starting next month.

One of the fun things about this assignment was that it now only meant that she saw how I do research with google etc but also involved her calling on her own memories of kancil stories her mom had told her, wayang shows she had seen (including a wayang orang show we did with Naga Mas in 2002 or 2003 when she was just a little girl) and her more recent experience of being my assistant at the British Library shows.

Below is her homework assignment, completed today - with some assistance from her dad.

Ki Ledjar Subroto

By Hannah Cohen
Saturday, 10 January 2009

Ki Ledjar Subroto is a shadow puppeteer, teacher and puppet maker from Yogyakarta, Indonesia (a country in Southeast Asia). He is called Ki Ledjar for short. His friends call him Mbah Ledjar. Mbah means grandfather in Javanese. He was born in Wonosobo, Java on 20 May 1938. He finished year 6 of primary school but did not go to secondary school. He watched many performances of wayang kulit (shadow puppet theatre) when he was a child. This inspired him to make his own wayang puppets out of cardboard. In 1956 he started working as an assistant for Ki Narto Sabdho, a famous puppeteer from Semarang. He would sit next to the puppeteer and hand him puppets, fix puppets when they broke, put puppets back in their places and many more things. He learned a lot about puppets from this experience. After four years, Ki Ledjar got a job with Ngesthi Pandowo, a wayang orang theatre company. This is a kind of theatre in which people (orang) play the roles of puppets (wayang). Ki Ledjar’s job was doing makeup and scenery. He started making funny masks and animal masks in 1978. They were made out of papier mache using recycled materials such as used tissues and paper.

Ki Ledjar began performing Wayang Kancil in 1980. Wayang Kancil is a kind of puppet show about a cheeky mouse deer who likes to trick other animals. The first play that Ledjar did was ‘Kancil Steals the Cucumbers,’ or in Indonesian, ‘Kancil Mencuri Ketimun.’ He performed this at Gadjah Mada University and in a village. He made his own puppets out of thin leather, painted on both sides and attached to buffalo horn or wooden sticks. He figured out that if he performed a simple show like ‘Kancil Steals the Cucumbers’ before an adult performance then children would not run around and be wild during the adult show. He performed Wayang Kancil every year at Yogyakarta’s Sekaten festival between 1981 and 1990 and became very famous for making and performing Wayang Kancil.

Nowadays he rarely performs Wayang Kancil in Indonesia but he has many students from Indonesia and abroad. After teaching his grandson Nanang about Wayang Kancil, Nanang created many Wayang Animasi. Wayang Animasi is a kind of short animated film with real wayang puppets, electronic music and computer effects. Parts of some of Nanang’s films have been posted on youtube.

One of Ki Ledjar’s current projects is painting murals on bridges and other places. He has a team working beside him for it is very hard to make a mural by yourself. Most of his murals are about battles between the Dutch and the Javanese. He made puppets for a Japanese dalang (puppeteer) named Ryuh Matsumoto of Japanese samurai warriors which Matsumoto used for a 2002 performance. Ki Ledjar exhibited some of his new puppets at the Pasar Malam Besar (Mega Night Market) in Holland in 2008, including a puppet of himself. He also performed and did Wayang Kancil making workshops.

Ki Ledjar’s puppets are all over the globe today in museums and normal households.