After “Jakarta Maghrib” and the horror omnibus “Hi5teria,” which is still playing in cinemas, get ready for “Sanubari Jakarta” (“Jakarta Deep Down”). But this collection of movies features a far different theme than the others.
“Sanubari Jakarta,” produced by Indonesian actress and director Lola Amaria and Fira Sofiana, is a collaborative effort by the Kresna Duta Foundation and the Ardhanary Institute, which is supported by Ford Foundation. The film focuses on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities, and acts as an advocate for the human rights struggles of these groups in Jakarta.
With the tagline “10 Directors, 10 Stories, 10 Loves,” “Sanubari Jakarta” was directed by a score of young, talented film directors: Tika Pramesti, Dinda Kanyadewi, Lola Amaria, Alfrits John Robert, Aline Jusrina, Adriyanto Dewo, Billy Christian, Kirana Larasati, Fira Sofiana and Sim F.
The story begins with “1/2” and a gorgeous opening shot and piece of cinematography by director Tika Pramesti. The first film of the omnibus is about a person who sees life in “blue-and-red.” The storyline reflects one of the character’s views of a distinctive world where he’s half-woman and half-man. In this dichotomy, women are categorized as “red” and men are stereotypically depicted in “blue.” Abi pretends to be Anna, and falls in love with another man, Biyan. In a world where same-sex relationships are seen as abnormal, Abi lets his feminine side, Anna, express his feelings for Biyan, who is overtly masculine and is hesitant to profess his love to Abi.
“Malam Ini Aku Cantik” (“Tonight I’m Beautiful”) examines the dark side of a transgender person named Agus, who is a sex worker in Jakarta. The cruel and dangerous world of prostitution, where unsafe sex is common, is shown bluntly in actress-turned-director Dinda Kanyadewi’s debut film. Agus — and many other sex workers — must scrape by to survive and earn a meager living.
Lola Amaria’s “Lumba-Lumba” (“Dolphins”) strives to connect the dots between dolphins and people with the same sexual orientation in urban Jakarta. The story revolves around Adinda, a kindergarten teacher, and one of her pupil’s parents, Anggya. Living in a fancy house, Anggya is married to a man who secretly has a relationship with another man. LGBT communities in Asian cultures often suffer from this obligation to marriage and convention, suppressing their freedoms, and their happiness.
One of the most entertaining films is “Kentang” (“Potato”), a lighter segment of the omnibus directed by Aline Jusrina. The film was shot entirely in a university student’s rented room, as gay couple Drajat and Acel hope to make love, but are distracted by obstacle upon obstacle that halts their plans of romance. Written in a comedic tone, “Kentang” tries to show how gay teenage couples interact and converse with each other in the most accurate terms possible. Drajat and Acel debate over whether to come out of the closet, and wonder if they’ll be accepted by their families and society.
With all due respect to the other directors of the omnibus, “Menunggu Warna” (“Waiting for Color”) is my favorite film. A silent black-and white-film, “Menunggu Warna” is a sincere representation of LGBT communities in Indonesia. Riding his motorbike to a traffic light, Satrio waits for the lights to go green while Adam, another boy, stands a few meters away, waiting for a ride. When the light turns green, both Satrio and Adam are suddenly riding together. They become involved in a romantic relationship, until they have one too many rides. The couple is eventually at the same traffic light, but this time, the story reverts back to the opening scene, with Satrio on his bike waiting for the green light, and Adam standing on the sidewalk. But the light never turns green.
The metaphor? The LGBT community in Indonesia has never had a “green light.” The escalating violence against members of the minority community only reinforces their marginalized existence.
It goes without saying that the lives of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals in Jakarta are not easy. The 10 stories in “Sanubari Jakarta” are a mix of ordinary, simple lives, hardship, longing for acceptance and basic love stories set in Jakarta, where all the characters try to survive, to be themselves and to find identity, and love.
“Sanubari Jakarta” seeks to overcome negative perceptions of non-heterosexual groups, or the beliefs that homosexuals are engaged in sinful behavior. The sexual orientations in each and every character in “Sanubari Jakarta” demands a better world, and to feel a sense of belonging in this bitter society.
At the end of the day, the film gives audiences a perspective of the beautiful and otherwise ordinary lives of the LGBT communities. Although they belong to a minority, these people are human, with all the rights and hopes of any other person. They can feel, love, dream and work — just as we all do. They should be loved as we love other people.
Go to the cinema and watch and be entertained by these people’s stories. Be inspired as they struggle to find love and hope, even in the most desperate places.
“Sanubari Jakarta” has the potential to inspire viewers to appreciate and respect those with diverse sexual orientations, even to be honest with one’s sexual orientation, because every person deserves to express their sexuality in an equal way.
Olin Monteiro is a writer and feminist working in Jakarta.
Directed by Tika Pramesti, Dinda Kanyadewi, Lola Amaria, Alfrits John Robert, Aline Jusrina, Adriyanto Dewo, Billy Christian, Kirana Larasati, Fira Sofiana and Sim F.
“Sanubari Jakarta” opens in local cinemas today.