People

Soegijapranata : A biopic
of Indonesia’s humanist
hero

Courtesy of Puskat Pictures

Senior director Garin Nugroho has again appeared with his new movie, Soegija, a biopic of national hero Albertus Magnus Soegijapranata SJ, the first Indonesian native bishop.

Involving 2,275 actors and costing Rp12 billion (US$1.3 million), the the most expensive film in Garin’s career is set to be shown in movie houses on June 7.

Soegija was a natural choice for the films focus, as national figure who struggled through his silent diplomacy in Semarang, Central Java for the nation’s sovereignty. As a bishop, he was very close to members of his congregation, and was a good friend of and adviser to president Sukarno. “In their respective positions, they served as the mouthpiece of Indonesian people,” said Father Mudji Sutrisno, moments before a media gathering on Soegija in Jakarta, recently.

Soegija’s flair for diplomacy enabled him to write in various media outlets in Holland and throughout Europe to raise awareness among the European community of Dutch colonial atrocities in Indonesia. Finally the embargo previously imposed on Indonesia was lifted. With the same finesse, he convinced the Vatican of the existence of a young state called Indonesia. And the Holy See readily recognized Indonesia’s independence.

Soegija was fighting along with people from diverse backgrounds. He was confident of the common goodness of humanity. In spite of the different races, origins, languages, customs and ways of life, all men belong to a big family, which he believed would, in the future, witness no more suspicion, enmity, violence and bloodshed for their posterity.

This humanist spirit of Soegija considerably added color to his action in the face of war, irony and fragility of power in the fledgling independent state. “During his leadership from 1940-1949, the atmosphere of war still prevailed, such as the five-day battle in Semarang, where regional leaders were absent while Japanese troops maintained their position in Indonesia,” said Garin at the gathering.

It was during such hard times that Soegija managed to place himself as a humanist leader capable of guiding surrounding communities regardless of religious and ethnic identities. “Basically a leader should indeed be able to provide guidance. A leader should be nationalist while retaining his humanist side. This has to be manifested in concrete deeds rather than mere discourses,” added Garin.

Meanwhile, Muslim intellectual Moeslim Addurrahman said Soegija’s leadership should be imitated by current figures. Soegija was a religious, humanist and nationalist leader. “Therefore, this film isn’t a propagation of faith. It’s about humanism. I’m pleased to see Garin produce a digestible movie. Only he himself could understand his previous films, meaning he’s repented,” said Moeslim with a hearty laugh.

Mgr. Albertus Magnus Soegijapranata SJ was born in Surakarta, Central Java, on November 25, 1896. He passed away in Steyl, Venlo, the Netherlands, on July 22, 1963 at the age of 66. He was Apostolic Vicar in Semarang before he became Archbishop of Semarang. His status of national hero was based on Presidential Decree No. 152/1963 dated July 26, 1963.

Speaking at a recent discussion of Soegija at the Indonesian Bishops’ Conference (KWI), historian Dr. Anhar Gonggong said Mgr. Soegija had gone beyond his bishopric to serve as a national leader. “He wasn’t just a bishop; he’s an Indonesian leader. Amid a crisis there must be somebody who can adopt the right stance and act beyond his confines. He was tested as a good leader and deserved the hero status,” assured Anhar.

Soegija was also known for his motto “100 percent Indonesia, 100 percent Catholic”. For him, both were inseparable because at that time, being Catholic was taken by most people as being Dutch. “Becoming Catholic was interpreted as following Londo or the Dutch those days, which was troublesome,” said Mudji Sutrisno.

Nonetheless, instead of being trapped by the trouble, Soegija emerged as a national figure to assist the newly born Indonesian government. “He even moved his bishopric office from Semarang to Yogyakarta to accompany the new Republic,” Mudji pointed out.

Soegijapranata in this picture is played by Nirwan Dewanto. The other artists include familiar names such as Olga Lydia, Annisa Hertami, Andrea Reva, Lydia, and Butet Kertarajasa. In addition, Garin has also included Japanese and Dutch stars.

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