Indonesia’s traditional comedy group Srimulat is about to undertake a big screen comeback, with “Finding Srimulat” set to be released on April 11.
The movie will feature some of the most popular members of Srimulat, including Kabul Basuki or Tessy, Kadir, Mamiek, Tarsan, Gogon and Nunung.
Director Charles Gozali said the movie was a touching yet funny drama that features some of their real life stories. “Finding Srimulat” also stars Reza Rahadian and Rianti Cartwright.
Charles, who has been working on the movie for three years, said he has been a huge fan of the group since he was a child.
“If I didn’t listen to their cassettes at night, I couldn’t sleep,” he said.
“Finding Srimulat” is his third movie and he said he wanted it to be a homage to Indonesia’s legendary comedians.
The movie tells the story of Adika Fajar (Reza Rahadian), an event organizer struggling to keep his job after rival Jo Lim (Fauzi Baadila) stole his idea. Along the way, he meets Kadir, a Srimulat member, and it strikes him a good idea to bring the group back on stage. Together, they work toward the possibility of a reunion show by finding each member of the Srimulat group.
However, the journey to bring the group back does not go smoothly. The story unfolds as Adika and the Srimulat members battle illnesses, egos and funding problems.
Srimulat was established in 1950 by Teguh Slamet Rahardjo. The group was named after Teguh’s wife, R.A. Srimulat, who was also a member. Srimulat started out performing in night markets in Solo, as well as other cities in Java, though over the years the group has taken on different names and formats, peaking in popularity in the 1980s, when it had a regular show on TVRI, the country’s only television station at the time.
Srimulat members have come and gone. At one point, the group had about 300 members who performed regularly in Jakarta, Solo and Surabaya. It was not an easy job for Teguh to keep everyone happy, and the group broke up in 1989.
Executive producer Hendrick Gozali recalls Srimulat’s glory days, when the group performed on a roofless stage at Taman Ismail Marzuki in Jakarta. Their audience varied from regular Jakartans to high-level politicians.
Material for the shows came from peoples’ daily lives, so it could be enjoyed by people from all social classes.
“We called Srimulat ‘waterproof’ because even when it rained, the crowd stayed,” Hendrick said.
In his book “Indonesia Tertawa” (“Indonesia Laughs”), anthropologist James Danandjaja from the University of Indonesia refers to Srimulat as a subculture. Srimulat, James writes, is both a cultural community and a genre of comedy. One characteristic of the group, James says, is that it does not mock or degrade people in its comedy, as its jokes are based on Javanese language and culture.
Their traditional style when performing is rather peculiar, and Charles admitted that the shooting process was challenging: Srimulat members are used to spontaneity, with audience reactions hints as to where the jokes should go. To act in front of camera was quite a new thing for them.
“There are three big scenes in the movie that I didn’t write in the script,” Charles said. “I just told them how I wanted the story to go, and they came up with their own dialogue.”
Charles also assigned Reza and Rianti to keep the Srimulat members on track. Both young actors panicked when they were told they had to act with no written dialogue.
Improvisation on set also resulted in a lots of footage, but the result, Charles said, is satisfying and pure chemistry.
Tessy said the script without dialogue was very familiar to him as a Srimulat member. “We totally enjoyed those big acts, and Charles often cut us before we finished the joke,” he said.
As for Reza, it was his first time acting without a script. He shares most scenes with Tessy and Gogon, who effortlessly talk and joke with one other. They first met at the reading, where the Srimulat members seemed calm and serious, so shooting was quite a surprise.
“Finding Srimulat” is Reza’s latest film after starring in the highly successful biopic “Habibie & Ainun,” which premiered in December and is still showing in cinemas. It is also his first time acting in a comedy.
“I learned that spontaneity and faith in the profession is a very important thing to have.”