Oei Eng Goan
Suyadi is a master storyteller and puppet animator who once captivated millions of Indonesian children with the characters he created on “Si Unyil” — in particularly Pak Raden — three decades ago.
The artist, however, has failed to win the sympathy of a state-owned film production company, which has declined to grant him the royalties he seems to deserve.
“Si Unyil,” Indonesia’s first animation series, aired every Sunday morning on TVRI state-run television station between 1979 and 1991. The protagonist is a village boy whose name is used as the title of the series, which covers themes of everyday rural life.
More than just a series for children, “Si Unyil” was also designed to inform the public about the various development programs and achievements of the New Order government of President Suharto; it was supervised by Gufran Dwipayana, better known as Pak Dipo, the president’s special assistant for media and documentation affairs.
But through Suyadi and screenwriter Kurnain Suhardiman, the series, which totaled more than 600 episodes, became an enjoyable weekly show for children. Besides providing entertainment, the show also contained moral messages that encouraged children to be diligent, honest and obedient to their parents.
Adult viewers, who would watch with their children, also enjoyed the series because of the frequent comic satire in the storylines, such as the behavior and expressions of the bad-tempered Pak Raden (voiced by Suyadi), one the antagonistic characters.
It was the outlandish Pak Raden, portrayed as an old man with thick eyebrows, a mustache, always wearing traditional Javanese attire and speaking in a heavy Javanese accent, who attracted millions of fans, young and old, across the nation.
Just as the famous and fictitious detective Sherlock Holmes and the kind-hearted but snobbish Mr. Micawber have become living figures in Western culture and the minds of English-speaking readers worldwide, so has Pak Raden in the minds of the Indonesians. But unlike Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Charles Dickens, who have been placed on a pedestal by the British, Suyadi has nearly been forsaken by his compatriots.
The artist, who leads a bachelor’s life, studied film making and animation at Les Cineates Associes and Les Films Martin-Bouchet in France for many years. Upon his return to Indonesia in 1971, he established himself as an animator. He got involved in making short feature films about family planning programs and the importance of environmental conservation sponsored by the then Ministry of Information.
His love for children and art was demonstrated even when he was still a young student, drawing illustrations for the translated version of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales.
Now at 79 and confined to a wheelchair due to acute rheumatism, Suyadi, a graduate from the School of Arts of the Bandung Institute of Technology, has had to busk to maintain an honest sustenance. While singing or telling stories he always dresses and wears makeup like he used to in the days of playing the puppets he had created.
Last Saturday, he held a simple friendly gathering at his modest house in Central Jakarta, hoping to attract visitors to support his demand for royalties and recognition for the copyright of the puppet characters in “Si Unyil.”
In December 1995 Suyadi and the PPFN state-owned film company clinched a deal that gave the firm the copyright of his creation for five years, Suyadi told Kompas.com. PPFN, however, refused to pay royalties to Suyadi, arguing that all elements of the show, from research to production of the puppets and screenwriting, was financed by the company, thereby affirming its status as the sole holder of the copyright.
While waiting for the copyright claimants to settle the dispute, fans of Pak Raden — particularly those who were young children in the 1980s and now have some status and wealth — could well lend a helping hand to the character’s alter ego as an expression of gratitude for his entertaining and inspiring performances over the years.
Muriel Spark, a noted British novelist once said: “Being over 70 is like being engaged in a war. All our friends are going or gone and we survive amongst the dead and dying on a battlefield.”
A small show of well-deserved sympathy could bring sheer bliss to Suyadi.
Oei Eng Goan, a former literature lecturer at National University (UNAS) in Jakarta, is a freelance journalist.