Monday, August 18, 2008

The Smell of the Crowd, the Roar of the Greasepaint.

No Jakarta Post this Sunday as it's Independence Day. Here's something from the archives though:

The ritual humiliation of the Bule on Indonesian TV has proved to be an entertaining diversion for the local populace. I have friends who have appeared in both Sinetron soap operas and advertisements and the new show Bu. Gil. (Bule Gila or crazy Westerner) has just upped the anti by getting local expats to make complete tits of themselves being Bajaj drivers and cigarette vendors for a day.

However, the chance to get my fizog onto the big screen in a proper movie (albeit as a humble extra) was something I just couldn't pass up. The romance of celluloid was a powerful enticement to my participation in the project although not everyone felt the same way. The friends that my buddy Peter and I promised to bring to the shooting to make up the numbers, failed to materialize, and there then followed a two-hour intermission whilst some of the production crew burned down to Jalan Jaksa to pick up a few more itinerant Bules. The extra whiteys duly arrived, although some of them were clearly a bit the worse for wear after an afternoon of high living on the street of broken dreams.

The movie was called Ca Bau Kan, a period drama set in old Batavia during the Dutch colonial era, hence the need for us lilly-white thespians. The star of the film was Ferry Salim, a famous Indonesian actor who seems to be presenting just about every tacky quiz show on TV these days.

In order to confer the movie an authentic colonial ambience, some of the scenes were being shot in the lovely old Gedung Arsip building in Kota. After being made up by some charming young ladies, it was off to the wardrobe department to don some authentic 19th-century togs. I shoehorned myself into an ill fitting but extremely smart long tailed jacket and formal chemise and waited for our scene to start shooting.

There then followed the inevitable delay. The combination of all the usual technical hitches and disruptions found on a film set with Indonesian Jam Karet (rubber time) meant that we didn't get to strut our stuff until gone 9 PM. However, myself and the other extras quite enjoyed strolling around the old, colonial building in period costume as if we had been projected backwards in time. We even got to meet the leading man, Mr. Salim himself, who seemed to be an affable kind of a guy and not at all haughty or megalomaniacal. It was also fascinating to watch a movie set in action.

Eventually our time came and we were ushered onto the set. My fellow extras and I were playing the jury in a courtroom scene. Our one dramatic task was to applaud Ferry's character's speech before being silenced by the recalcitrant judge's gavel. After 4 or 5 takes it was in the can and we all gathered round one of the cameras to view the rushes.

We were each given a token Rp.250,000 for our trouble before changing back into our modern clothes and heading out into Kota's smog. It had been a memorable experience on the whole. It may not have paid as well as a Pepsodent commercial that it was certainly a more culturally rewarding brush with fame.

After all that, it was off to the cinema six months later in order to spot my five second contribution to a 90 minute movie. Ah well, even Robert De Niro had to start somewhere.