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'A Man Called Ahok' director refuses to glorify Ahok

Keshie Hernitaningtyas
Keshie Hernitaningtyas

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta | Mon, October 8, 2018 | 01:37 pm
'A Man Called Ahok' director refuses to glorify Ahok

'A Man Called Ahok' director Putrama Tuta (JP/Donny Fernando)

Published on Sept. 6 by production company The United Team of Art, the official teaser trailer for A Man Called Ahok has been viewed more than 1.34 million times and liked by more than 5,200 users on YouTube by Monday morning. 

In most of the comments left on the video, users shared how they missed the former Jakarta governor, Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, and felt goose bumps or even shed tears when watching the teaser.

"This is a drama, meaning it was designed for the audience to cry," said the film's director, Putrama Tuta, affectionally known as Tuta, during a recent interview at the offices of The Jakarta Post.

Adapted from the best-selling novel of the same title by Rudi Valinka, A Man Called Ahok focuses on the role of Ahok's family in shaping his character since he was little. 

"When I took this project, I had one requirement, which was that we don't glorify Ahok. I also refused to tell the part of Ahok being in Jakarta, [since] I think it's no use; everyone already knows that story. Those who want to know what happened can read about it on media outlets or watch YouTube. I only want to share Ahok's story from the point of view that people do not know -- how his character was built, Ahok’s background. These are the important things we must know and convey to future generations," said Tuta.

To accurately develop the story, the team conducted fact-checking research and interviews with Ahok's family members and everyone related to him. "To research the story, I myself stayed at Pak Ahok's house in Belitung for a few months, ate his mother's dishes. I went [to Belitung] several times; I visited everyone mentioned and not mentioned in the book to explore their characters' background," Tuta shared.

Tuta said Ahok had provided some input for the script himself. "'My father did not behave this way when he was angry' or 'my mother never got mad like this', he told me when he read the script. Hence, we made adjustments accordingly."

Read also: Ahok to be free in January

Ahok was still the governor of Jakarta when the project started in early February last year. His term was supposed to end in October that same year, however, he was found guilty of blasphemy by the North Jakarta District Court for suggesting that some people had abused a Quranic verse to block his re-election bid. In early May 2017, the court sentenced him to two years in prison.

"Since the premise is how a little boy became a man, the story of this film is not affected by whether Pak Ahok is a governor or not. I'm glad I didn't touch that story," said the 35-year-old director of Catatan Harian Si Boy (Boy's Daily Diary).

Filming started in March 2018 and took 34 days, 98 percent was shot in Belitung, said Tuta. "We rebuilt [Ahok's family's] 1976 house, since it doesn't exist anymore. There are plans to turn the house into a museum."

He added that the team had cast actor and TV host Daniel Mananta for the main role in November 2017.

"The most fun part for me was shaping Daniel to become Ahok. There were many [actors] who wanted to play Ahok, however no one delivered the same enthusiasm as Daniel. I could really feel that he really wanted this role. What else can you expect from an actor? He will give you his best," said Tuta, adding that one of Daniel's biggest challenges for this role was to break with his natural voice.

"Our biggest responsibility as directors is to make the actors believable. If Daniel is not believable, I'm done. Once one of our producers brought a married couple to watch our teaser. When the husband got out, he told me that he was initially grudging about Daniel portraying Ahok. However, after seeing the trailer, he said he couldn't think of anyone else to play the part."

Set to be released in Indonesian cinemas on Nov. 8, Tuta said he never fussed over how people might respond to the movie about the rather controversial figure.

"I don't care; I just want to make a good movie that doesn't glorify Ahok, that does not try to clear any facts and that tells things people don't know. If the movie is good, it will speak for itself."

However, Tuta was flattered by the response of Ahok's family members, who have watched the film. "They all cried, and his mother said, ‘boleh, boleh [go ahead]’. That's enough for me."

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