Zakir Hussain – Straits Times
Indonesia’s former president B.J. Habibie continues to be sought after for advice on education and leadership. Next month, Indonesians will learn about love from him too.
The “love story” of Habibie and his late wife, Madam Hasri Ainun Habibie, hits the big screens on Dec 20.
The elder statesman, now 76, has been actively coaching the young actors playing him and his late wife, even chiding them for acting in a way they would not.
“Hey, no kissing, I told them,” he recounts with a chuckle. “I never kissed my wife in front of anybody, except in a room… You have to play me, not you.”
In an interview with The Sunday Times, Habibie says there is no political intention behind the movie, Habibie and Ainun.
However, it comes at the end of a year when Indonesians’ disillusionment with their current crop of leaders and politicians has risen to levels never seen in 15 years.
And as they long for role models, Habibie’s love story provides welcome relief and a reminder that leaders are after all human, but their lives can offer inspiration.
Former Muhammadiyah chairman Ahmad Syafii Maarif says it “can become an inspiration for seekers of spiritual recipes for building households full of peaceful affection, something not easy for most of us, including myself.”
Habibie, a fast-talking German-trained former aeronautical engineer, was catapulted from a Cabinet position as the longstanding minister overseeing research and technology, to vice-president in 1998.
But the country was in crisis, and after the fall of strongman Suharto in 1998, he held the fort for over a year and shepherded his country’s transition into a functioning democracy.
After stepping down, he set up a think-tank, The Habibie Center, to help monitor the state of democracy and human rights and ensure the country remains on that path. The center turned 13 this month.
The movie is based closely on a book he wrote carrying the same title, published by the centre.
Habibie wrote the book at the suggestion of his doctors as a tribute to his late wife who passed away in May 2010. They were concerned about his rapidly deteriorating health right after her death.
“I wrote the book because I was very sick. It was only two months before my wife passed away that they told me she had cancer, fourth stage,” he recalls. “I went to the hospital and never went out.”
Little did he realize it would become a bestseller. Some 100,000 copies have been sold, and the book has been translated into English, German and Arabic.
Writing it also helped Habibie bounce back from a bout of gloom at losing his life partner.
“You’ve lived for so long together, that when one of you goes, the one who stays will feel it hardest,” he recalls. “It’s human behavior. Doctors predicted I would not survive longer than three months, that I would follow my wife.”
He surprised them by quickly plunging into telling the story of life with his wife.
“If your computer hangs, what do you do?” he says. “You restart it. I thought, where should I restart? The first day I met Ainun.”
His son Ilham often had to check on him late into the night to ensure he had enough rest. Within four months, a manuscript was done.
The movie follows the order of the book fairly closely, from the couple’s first meeting as adults at her parents’ home in Bandung and their rapidly arranged marriage.
Habibie had to complete his studies in Aachen, Germany, and his new bride quit her job as a doctor to join him. The couple then spent more than 10 years together abroad as he built his career, rising to vice-president at German aircraft maker Messerschmitt.
Then President Suharto and his staff urged them to return home to contribute to the rapidly developing country and its ambitions to develop an aviation industry. They did.
Habibie says several film-makers expressed interest in turning the book into a movie, but MD Entertainment’s Dhamoo and Manoj Punjabi had the best concept.
The film, shot in Indonesia and Germany earlier this year, features rising stars Reza Rahardian, 25, as Habibie and Bunga Citra Lestari, 29, as Ainun.
Habibie admits that he is still stiff and comes across as too rational, as a result of his training in heavy engineering.
But he recounts what the German translator of his book said of it, and believes this comes across in the film: “Habibie has written it not with his brain, but with his heart!”
— Reprinted Courtesy of Straits Times