With a growing number of accomplishments and a long parade of magazine covers, top model and actress Endhita Wibisono has every right to be smug about her high-profile career. But this woman remains grounded and does not seem to get carried away by the glitz of the fashion industry that brought her stardom or the silver screen that also came calling.
The Jakarta Globe met the 35-year-old Jakarta-born model last week at a photo studio in Tebet, South Jakarta. She was still finishing the last few frames at the appointed interview time. Donning a crisp gold-colored strapless cocktail dress, Endhita immediately got up from her seat with a polite greeting.
“You’re early. Please make yourself comfortable. Hope it’ll be done in a flash,” said the wife of Arlonsy Miraldi, the guitarist of the popular Ungu band.
The end of the session was reminiscent of an episode of “America’s Next Top Model,” when the model strikes her final pose, followed by a chorus of cheers and applause from the crew as the photographer and the fashion stylist announce, “It’s a wrap!”
From Sneakers to Couture
Despite a career that has included fashion spreads, runway shows, presenting TV programs and appearances in soap operas and feature films, Endhita said she had little to do with its start.
“I didn’t know that my friend had sent my photos and information to Wajah Femina [Femina’s face model search],” she said with a laugh, referring to the famous model scouting competition run by leading women’s magazine, Femina, which has given many top-tier models their start in the industry.
Endhita said she was terrified to find out that she made it to the next round in the 1997 competition.
“Sneakers, jeans and football jerseys were fashionable in my younger days. That’s how my fashion sense was,” Edhita said.
“I cried on the night before leaving for the semifinal, which required us to be sequestered. They told all the participants to bring makeup, high heels, special underwear for kebaya outfits and other girly things but I didn’t have any of that,” Endhita, the youngest of three children, recalled. “My routine before I took up modeling was pretty much always the same: studying, going to [the school] campus and then going back home. I didn’t go out a lot except to the campus to study.”
Before she became a glamorous model, Endhita was enrolled in a banking course and dreamed about working at a financial institution.
“My father and siblings supported my decision to make modeling my career but they also pushed me to finish my studies,” she said. “I may not work at a bank but that knowledge is very useful now because I can manage my own finances and also make an investment plan.”
But Endhita’s career wasn’t always a smooth ride. In 2009, the low-key girl next door who loved to dress comfortably had sensual photos of herself in a skimpy outfit and a bikini published in the men’s magazine, FHM. The racy photos left little to the imagination
“The photographer and fashion stylist happened to be close friends so we did the photo shoot but they didn’t tell me they were for publication. That would have made a difference because I thought it was just a photo shoot with close friends,” she said.
“But now that I’m older and look at those photos again, I don’t think I would ever do something like that again.”
Though it caused something of an uproar locally, the photos caught the eye of the FHM Spanish office, which bought the publication rights to the pictures.
From silently banking on her looks in the modeling world, Endhita also got the opportunity to make the transition into acting. She made her debut with a supporting role in the 2002 thriller “Titik Hitam” (“Black Spot”).
She moved up to a starring role in her next feature, “Bangsal 13” (“Ward 13”). The horror film was shot at a leprosy hospital in Tangerang and was directed by Dimas Djayadiningrat with actress Luna Maya co-starring.
“When I decided to take the role all I thought about was conquering my own fears,” she said.
Working on a horror film, Endhita saw how foolish she was to be scared of the genre. “I saw the tricks and special effects that were applied to the film in post-production,” she said. “ I saw the difference between what I shot and what the final product looked like.”
Although that film removed some of the mystery behind things that go bump in the night, the set had its spooky moments.
“Once there was, an old man [on the set]. I didn’t know where he came from or who he was. He stood in front of me and told me not to let my mind go blank. That’s it, and he then walked away,” she said, adding that she still gets goosebumps when she remembers the incident.
Why? Because of a local myth that people with blank minds are more likely to become possessed by bad spirits.
‘?’ & Controversy
After more than a decade of acting, Endhita’s hard work earned her a Best Lead Actress nomination at the 2011 Indonesian Film Festival for her role in the movie, “?.”
She plays Rika, a divorced mother who is in a complex relationship with a younger man from a different religion. Rika has to deal with a lot of family conflicts, especially with her mother and son, who oppose her decision to convert to her lover’s faith. Rika is also judged by her neighbors because of her divorce and new relationship.
The film, shot in Semarang, carries a heavy message about pluralism. Before it was screened for the public, controversy arose when the youth wing of the Nahdlatul Ulama, raised it voice in protest against the movie.
“I played an interesting character, Rika. I think there are too many cases where our plurality is tested. I have friends who date people from a different religion and struggle to get permission from their parents, who oppose the relationship,” Endhita said. “This is just one example of a simple case of people falling in love and planning for their future but they are stopped because of different faiths.”
Several officials from the Indonesian Council of Ulema even called the movie “haram,” or forbidden, for allegedly spreading misleading information about converts and what the clerics consider right and wrong.
“It’s sad really, because the film has a noble message,” Endhita said. “But no matter what the public reaction was to the film, I have to say that I was honored to play a role in this big film.”