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Jim Adhi Limas pioneer of Indonesian modern theater

A. Kurniawan Ulung
A. Kurniawan Ulung

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta | Thu, November 15, 2018 | 09:32 am
Jim Adhi Limas pioneer of Indonesian modern theater

To perform is living: French actor Jim Adhi Limas (left) performs a play titled OmongObrolan (Talking about chat) at the Salihara Theater in Jakarta in August. (-/Witjak Widhi Cahya)

Actor Jim Adhi Limas might have been living in France for 50 years but he still considers Indonesia home. 

No words could describe his mixed feelings when the 81-year-old visited Indonesia for the first time in December 2017 since he left in 1967. He was wowed by big changes in Jakarta, something that he previously observed through photos in magazines and newspapers only in France.   

“Jakarta is like New York now,” he said, referring to the capital bursting with shopping malls and high-rise buildings.

“In 1967, [the only high building in Jakarta] was Sarinah mall.”  

As an actor, Jim has starred in over 100 TV series and films inside and outside France, such as romance drama Bitter Moon, for which he played with award-winning actors Hugh Grant and Kristin Scott Thomas. 

In the Indonesian theater scene, he has made a name for himself as one of the seven founders of Studiklub Teater Bandung (STB), the first contemporary theater group in Indonesia. 

In August this year, he visited Jakarta again to share the history of the STB in a talk during the Salihara International Performing Arts Festival (SIPFest) at the Salihara Theater. 

The STB was initiated in October 1958 in Bandung, West Java by Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) visual art students Jim Lim, Sutardjo A. Wiramihardja, Sujatna Anirun, Thio “Gigo” Tjong Gie, Tien Srie Kartini and Adrien Kahar and Pikiran Rakyat newspaper journalist Soeharmono Tjitrosoewarno. 

“Unfortunately, many of them have passed away,” Jim said. 

The STB might not be a very popular name in Indonesia’s theater scene, but it is far older than other legendary modern groups, such as Bengkel Teater founded by WS Rendra in 1967 and Teater Populer by Teguh Karya in 1968. 

The group still exists as of today although Jim left it in 1967 after he received a scholarship from the French government to study in France.

When we were young: Actor Jim Adhi Limas (second left) performs as part of Studiklub teater Bandung in the 1960s. When we were young: Actor Jim Adhi Limas (second left) performs as part of Studiklub teater Bandung in the 1960s. (-/A. Kurniawan Ulung)

During his time in the STB, he was an actor and director.

“We knew nothing about theater. We just learned it from books because we loved reading,” he said. 

“If asked about who our teachers were, we answered that we were the students and teachers at the same time,” he added.

Jim said the idea to form the STB popped up when the visual art department of the ITB asked him and other students to perform to celebrate its 10th anniversary on March 8, 1958. 

The first play the group staged was titled Jayaprana, a popular legend in Bali that tells of how good-looking and loyal general Jayaprana was betrayed by king Anak Agung Gde Jelantik. 

The flick starts with the king who asks Jayaprana to choose any woman in his kingdom to be his wife as a reward for his services. But, Jelantik later crushes on Layonsari, a pretty woman Jayaprana fell in love with. Incited by his cunning uncle, the king then kills the general to takes Layonsari away from him and marries her. 

In the Jayaprana play, Jim not only played the perfidious king, but also directed it with the Indonesian version of a five-acts-play script by Dutch poet Jef Last. 

“The script was translated by author Rosihan Anwar,” Jim said. 

From 1958 to 1968, the STB was never paid for the plays it staged, according to Jim. Its members did side jobs to make ends meet. He himself was unemployed but he could make money from contributing movie reviews to Pikiran Rakyatonce or twice every week. 

Although STB members were self-taught theater players, they liked to perform foreign plays, such as Hamlet by English poet William Shakespeare, Tea and Sympathy by American playwright Robert Anderson and Rhinoceros by Romanian-French playwright Eugene Ionesco. 

“We wanted to prove that we, Indonesians, were also able to perform these plays as well as foreign theater groups did [....] Tea and Sympathy, for example, was so popular that it had been staged worldwide at that time,” he said.

The STB’s performances were so good that Jim got a scholarship to learn theater in France at the age of 30. It turned out that he received many offers to play in TV series and films there. 

When we were young: Jim Adhi Limas (second left) performs as part of Studiklub Teater Bandung in the 1960s. (Photo by A. Kurniawan Ulung)When we were young: Jim Adhi Limas (second left) performs as part of Studiklub Teater Bandung in the 1960s. (Photo by A. Kurniawan Ulung)

“However, for me, 30 years of living in Indonesia is way more important than 50 years of living in France,” he said.  

After using an Indonesian passport for 25 years in France, he decided to give up his Indonesian citizenship and become a French citizen in 1993.

“[As an Indonesian], I faced complicated procedure to get visas. The problem was that I was often sent to other countries for filming.”  

He, for example, was once forbidden to enter Portugal because of the Timor Leste issue. 

Jim admitted that he often got small roles in TV series and films in France, so he could not visit Indonesia for 50 years.

“I could not afford the expense,” he said. 

However, he said, he was never disappointed because what mattered for him was the countless opportunities to learn in the industry.

“I never dream to be famous or to be a superstar,” he said. 

During his recent trip in Indonesia in December 2017, Jim met his old friends from ITB’s visual art department and visited places historical to the STB, such as Gedung Kesenian Jakarta (GKJ) where the group once staged plays Tea and Sympathy and Masyitoh by Ajip Rosidi. 

From Gambir station in Jakarta, he then took the train to go to his hometown of Bandung to recall his childhood. When he was little, his parents — a Sundanese mother from Bogor, West Java and a Javanese father from Kudus, Central Java — often brought him to watch wayang wong (human puppet) every weekend in Kosambi. 

“I love wayang wong very much because the Javanese language spoken by its players is like music to my ears,” he said.

Jim says that his feelings for Indonesia have not changed although he is no longer an Indonesian citizen.

“I like Paris where I live today, but for me, the best city in my heart is still Bandung.”

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