I went to see Jalanan with a slight degree of trepidation, as I usually do with most Indonesian movies. It’s not that I have a cynical preconception or a lingering bitterness against local cinema, but it’s just not very often that I enjoy watching an Indonesian movie. Most likely I’ll either see overly sappy love stories, overly religious fables, or overly absurd horror flicks (my favorite genre out of the others). Sometimes they might even combine all three into one giant bag of barf.
I can’t blame the producers as I might assume that these types of movies are the ones that make the most money in our country. And that’s where my fear comes in: I’m afraid that these commercialized movies are becoming the paradigm that our local artists are reaching for, which is essentially money. What might be worse is the probability of non-Indonesians thinking that this is our standard of filmmaking. It frightens me.
The scarcity of good Indonesian movies doesn’t mean the absence of it. Once in a while a local movie does inspire me. A great example was the award-winning Jalanan, a documentary full of soul and heart it can bring life to all the kuntilanaks and pocongs in the other two-bit films.
Jalanan, which means ‘the streets’, is an absorbing documentary that studies the lives of Boni, Ho and Titi who make a living by singing amid the arduous streets and packed metro minis of Jakarta. Canadian-born filmmaker Daniel Ziv followed the lives of these peculiar buskers over the course of 4 unbridled years, observing each move they make and each action they take. He originally planned to produce a short film but he quickly realized that he might be uncovering something more compelling and urgent. His gut proved him right as Jalanan recently won the Best Documentary award in the prestigious Busan International Film Festival.
Life isn’t anywhere near easy for our three singers. At one point, Boni, a passionate folk singer in the veins of Bob Dylan (complete with the Harmonica), lost his home of 10 years from flooding (he lives under a bridge, right above/next to the water). The film simply doesn’t attempt to sugarcoat the adversities of living on the streets. But we see each of our heroes somehow persevere, or at least they try to. Without knowing whether they have a place to sleep at night or if they can afford to feed themselves the next day, they simply make the most out of it. Later on Boni renovated his ‘riverside home’ into a 1 star mini Hyatt residence, fully furnished with a bathtub and artificial grass, albeit still having garbage and shit flowing down his backyard. The scene was heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time, just like the movie.
Ho’s actual name is Bambang Mulyono. And yes, he knows that ‘Ho’ translates to prostitute in English, yet he still keeps it. In fact he revels in it and calls himself a “prostitute of art”. He’s also a natural anarchist as we see him attend those relentless political demonstrations that demand corruptors to be hanged. But he’s not there to support them as we initially guessed. “This is bullshit. They’re all hypocrites,” he tells us. His self-composed anti-corruption song that he sang on the bus is just unforgettable: “Reformasi! Masturbasi! Basa basi!” (he even made the verses rhyme). A prostitute of art indeed.
But you’ll be surprised with how much we can learn from these severely likeable individuals. “Hidup harus dihidupkan! (Our lives have to be lived)” says Ho, admitting and embracing his fate of living within a marginalized class in the capital. Despite the apparent hardships we witness in the film, Jalanan is still a story of dreams, both its death and revival. Ho dreams of having a wife and start a family one day. The scene where he takes a girl to a date at a Padang restaurant was beautifully honest. His blunt flirtations and candid confessions will bring some heartwarming laughs into the cinema, reminding us of Ho’s humanizing vulnerability.
Titi on the other hand already has a family, a broken one nonetheless. She personifies the typical modern woman: clever, brave and ambitious in tackling her dreams. The mother of three goes around in busses singing religious songs because she knows it usually grants her more money. She’s clearly not dumb, only unfortunate. Titi originated from a small village East Java and came to Jakarta in search of the big opportunity she thought was obtainable. When nothing opened up for her she set out to finish her high school and hope that a diploma will increase her chances of success. But for all of us watching, we will probably ask just how much does a diploma actually help in Jakarta? Perhaps not much. It’s the sad truth of the harshness of this city and a fact that Titi has yet to realize.
What I saw was a bruising story of the struggling class in Indonesia, the 20 million people who are living under the constant deprivation of living resources. Unlike some of us who are reading this article in front of a laptop screen or iPhone, some of these people might never have that kind of luck. But as the movie’s tagline suggests, “there is still hope in Jakarta”, and I suppose there is, or I’d like to imagine that there is. Will the lives of Boni, Ho and Titi, or the lives of the other 7,000 street singers in Jakarta change after the release of the movie? Maybe not dramatically. But it was a genuine privilege to have listened to their voices.
There was a moment in the film where Boni traveled to Plaza Indonesia for some window shopping and taking a dump in the ‘fancy’ toilet, among other things. He also speculated on how the cheapest thing in this mall will probably cost at least a staggering IDR 500.000. I then unconsciously thought about the things I own at my house: those that I didn’t really need and those that I could’ve bought cheaper. Rest assured I feel lucky, as we all should be with what we have. But ponder this: if they can live on the jalanan full of undying passion and genuine love with what they have, then what the hell are we complaining about?
Words by Duwi Satrio