When My Jakarta dropped in on Suyadi, the man behind the popular television character Pak Raden, at his house in Petamburan, Central Jakarta, he was in the middle of doing a voiceover for his role on the popular children’s show “Laptop si Unyil” (“Unyil’s Laptop”).
Without changing out of his Pak Raden suit, which he claims takes three hours to get into, Suryadi took some time to chat with My Jakarta about the cast of Unyil, his own favorite childhood shows and his backup mustache.
People know you mostly as Pak Raden. What traits do you share with the puppet character you play?
People think of Pak Raden as a grumpy, stingy old man with his perpetual encok (back pain). It was all just an act, of course, but over time I seem to have taken on his encok and become just as stingy as him [laughs].
Did you have Pak Raden in mind when you first created Unyil?
I never planned to become the real life figure of Pak Raden, or voice him. Back then, TVRI was just trying to find a suitable voice actor for the puppets. They tried many voice actors, but none seemed to fit Pak Raden. So I just tried to voice it myself. Who would’ve thought that the viewers would love it so much? My voice just connects with the character.
Unyil was a pioneer among children’s programs when it came out. What shows did you watch when you were a kid?
There were no meaningful local children programs back then, so I ended up watching “Little House on the Prairie,” Walt Disney shows and “Flash Gordon.”
What was the inspiration for each of the Unyil characters?
I wanted each character to have an educational value and an entertainment value. For Unyil, I saw him as an average Indonesian boy who deals with normal day-to-day problems like any third grader.
I didn’t want Unyil to be handsome or ugly, academically excellent or intellectually challenged, mancung or pesek (sharp- or flat-nosed).
For Cuplis, I made him to promote KB (family planning). I depict him as the son with too many siblings, which prevents him from studying effectively at school because he has to constantly take care of them.
For Bu Bariah, she’s a rujak petis [a kind of mixed fruit salad] seller from Madura who has issues with littering, as she’ll throw out her rujak leaf-for-plates just about anywhere. TVRI was initially going to call her “Titi” and have her sell pecel instead of rujak, but I changed that since “Titi” is a Javanese name, and we had many Javanese characters already.
Finally, Melani. I use her for acceptance and tolerance, as she is Unyil’s only Chinese friend. I’ve received many letters from mothers saying that their children have started making more friends since Melani joined the series [laughs].
You’ve been acting as Pak Raden for decades now. How many sets of Pak Raden attire have you had?
I’ve lost count, but right now I have five suits and several batik sarongs and blangkon [traditional Javanese headdress] . All custom made, especially now that my belly is getting bigger [laughs]. As for the mustache, I always carry a backup nowadays.
Why is that?
One day a man approached me and started touching my face, probably trying to confirm my identity. My mustache was nearly pulled off. Imagine what would happen if Pak Raden did not have his mustache.
I heard that it takes an hour and a half to get you into your Pak Raden costume. Is that true?
Says who? It takes three hours. Especially now since I have to use a cane or a wheelchair.
What do you do besides the show?
I’m now busy finishing my paintings for exhibitions at Rumah Jawa Gallery, the Jakarta Art Institute (IKJ) and the National Gallery. As much as I enjoy portraying Pak Raden, painting has always been my true passion. When I was just a kid, even before I started going to school, I would scribble all over the floor and walls of my house, to my family’s frustration [laughs].
Another passion is storytelling. There are storytellers who perform through music and songs or through plays. Others do so with comedy. But I think I’m still the only one telling a story through drawings [smiles].
I remember how once in Seattle I told a story about Jaka Tarub and didn’t know what the English word was for bidadari, as they are different from malaikat (angels). A colleague suggested “heavenly maidens.” But after some thinking, I decided to just use the untranslated word. It’s their turn to learn Indonesian.
Suyadi was talking to Antonny Saputra.