A Little Boy Watching ‘Kantata Takwa’
by Ifan Adriansyah Ismail
For some people, watching Kantata
Takwa may evoke a nostalgic feeling. But for our 21st century
generation, Kantata Takwa could be more than that: it’s
a spirit reawakening.
For some technical or political
reasons, Kantata Takwa may be one of the most time-consuming
films in the making process. Its raw celluloid lies idly
for almost 18 years since its production took place in 1990.
Watching it now, one could never imagine that a film like
this could be shown to public, due to its political content.
Even when it could, the impact
would be so different, and the film itself may have been
tampered with unmercifully. Now it is being shown to 2008
audiences, a generation so amnesiac it can’t (or won’t)
remember its own history. Are the filmmakers trying to impose
their memory on us? Are they becoming so old that they have
to go to their days gone by? What do they expect anyway?
Kantata Takwa recorded a history
stroked down by the rebelling legendary music group with
the same name, manned by the rebellious musicians of its
times, such the legendary Iwan Fals. Together they collaborated
with poet W.S. Rendra to make a semi-documentary film. The
film is also a musical, and frankly, cannot be easily categorized.
It was not documenting the backstage processes; it was not
trying to visualize a concept-album like Pink Floyd did
with their The Wall (Alan Parker, 1982). Rather, Kantata
Takwa may be wilder in its own fashion.
It’s an effort to capture
the artists’ inner thoughts, reflections and struggles.
It’s a theatrical performance; it’s a poetry
reading; it’s a political statement and it’s
a concert. There is almost no recognizable plot here, neither
a story with a defining structure. What we can instantly
feel is its consistent mood and aura: a thick atmosphere
of people who dare to say ‘NO’.
Thankfully, Kantata Takwa is
truly more than sum of its parts. Rendra delivered his oration-poems,
his theatre pack performed surreally, the musicians created
high-energy songs, and of course, the filmmakers managed
to capture the energy in its peak. That alone would justify
the film’s sometimes ‘too theatrical’
True, Rendra and the musicians
were a pack of eccentric artists with hard-to-find meanings.
But they resonated with Indonesians’ inner frustration
and anger. The time was the 90s, the backdrop was a dictatorial
regime, and the director was a king-like president, unwilling
to be denied by any means. The Indonesians were mainly fed,
but social injustices were virtually everywhere and, while
it was blatantly there, would not be acknowledged. So anger
and inner resentment were the only driving force for resistance.
And Kantata Takwa was one of the few who shouted.
Some of the most moving scenes
were documentary parts from their actual concert in Senayan
National Stadium at June 23 rd, 1990. It was a triggering
moment to the point of cultural movement when they sang:
Sabar sabar sabar dan tunggu
Itu jawaban yang kami terima
Ternyata kita harus ke jalan
Robohkan setan yang berdiri mengangkang
Oh oh ya oh ya oh ya bongkar!
Oh oh ya oh ya oh ya bongkar!
(Be patient and wait
That’s the response we always get
We must take it to the streets
To topple down that towering Devil ahead
Oh yes, oh yes, tear it down!
Oh yes, oh yes, tear it down!)
Directors and screenwriters
Eros Djarot and Gotot Prakosa didn’t forget to include
another resistance icon which was a hip at those times:
jilbab, or Moslem women’s headscarf. In the 90s, the
paranoid government felt that any identity symbol associated
with Islam would pose a threat against the state doctrine.
Thus, headscarves were banned, and Islam-as-a-movement was
In the film, a motherly figure
wearing a headscarf was portrayed as a bearing witness to
the events depicted: a village mob protesting their chief’s
villainy to the final elimination of the artists —
Rendra and friends — in the hands of the shadowy militaristic
figures. The filmmakers seemed to put a great hope upon
the women. After the climaxing ultimate annihilation, a
symbolic final scene depicted the women with headscarves
marching forward, warriors-like, under the watchful and
blessing eyes of the ‘late’ artists.
One may accuse that Islam was
‘used’ as a mere resistance icon, only to make
this piece popular among Indonesians. Allegedly, there were
some truth in that accusation, but one cannot deny the inner-struggling
the artists had when it dealt with spirituality and religion.
When they sang:
Malam khusuk menelan tahajjudku
Lidah halilintar menjilat batinku
Mentari dan cakrawala kenyataan hidup
Hanya padaMulah kekuasaan kekal
Lindungilah dari ganas dan serakah
Lindungilah aku dari setan kehidupan
Berikan mentariMu sinar takwa
Ya ampunilah dosa
(The silent night swallowed my prayer
The lightning touched my soul
The sun and the horizon of life
The eternal mightiness lies on You only
Protect us from violence and greed
Protect us from devilish life
Shine us Y our light of piety
Forgive ours sins)
…we can see that religion and spirituality,
like everywhere else, can be a powerful force that is truly
On matters concerning liberation
and freedom, Kantata Takwa never hesitated. In an almost
vulgar way, the repressing parties were so obvious: from
a theatrically hypocrite judge with his ever changing mask
to faceless thugs with rifles and military-style boots.
So Eric’s observation may be right: that Kantata Takwa
was indeed intended to blatantly voicing anger against government
repression on its times.
But times changed. There is
no longer a single ever-powerful and omnipresent dictator
in Indonesia. There is no more “a towering Devil”
(“Setan yang berdiri mengangkang”). Instead,
we got little devils now, ghosting around in a fragmented
Indonesia, without any direction or a celebrated cause.
The irony of Soeharto’s
fall is that while many things changed, frustration and
anger among the people stood still. Headscarf is still a
matter of identity, but in turning events, it has been hijacked
into a culture war with fascistic tendencies. In addition
to that, we can see globally that the spirit of revolution
is over. There is no more Che Guevara, no more revolutionist
causes and no more roaring Iwan Fals in his full-energy
So what’s the significance
of this film? Indonesia has changed rapidly, although whether
to a better direction or not is debatable. That makes Kantata
Takwa’s stubborn theme seemed outdated. Well, if you
are a cynical pessimist, then yes, Kantata Takwa was no
more than a nostalgic effort by some aged artists and filmmakers.
If you are an optimist, then you may agree with me that
this film is truly an important piece of work, a fuel for
another cultural movement, even now.
I feel blessed being a member
of a generation that’s slightly younger from Kantata
Takwa generation. When Erros and Gotot pointed their cameras
to these artists, I was a little boy wearing school uniform
with short pants, reciting and memorizing from school lessons
with state-approved curricula. And I was too little and
too far away from Jakarta to be involved in that ‘small
revolution’ evolved from Senayan National Stadium.
But I am not completely isolated,
thank God. From my brother’s and father’s magazines,
I remember reading about Kantata Takwa concert that was
deemed ‘disturbing the peace’. I remember my
heart been moved by Iwan Fals’ songs that were voicing
the marginalised, and I remember reading news of Moslem
girl students expelled from school because of their headscarves.
But that was just that. Hence, with that kind of limited
memory, watching Kantata Takwa gave a new meaning to me.
It was obviously not a nostalgic
moment for me, but it was a spiritual enlivening, rooted
in the past. It drew a bigger context to my memories. Now
I can see again that glare. Iwan Fals, standing like a towering
rock with his bare chest and his guitar above the stage
was a scene that I will never forget. When I saw him, I
saw a culture movement in the work, and I saw a people’s
power in the making.
Kantata Takwa is not a mere
historical record. It captured the spirit of a wounded nation,
while in these contemporary times we seldom forget why we
were wounded. With its powerful spirit, Kantata Takwa should
have been given chance to reach out from their time, and
passing the force to a younger generation that in dire need
Ekapraya Tata Cipta Film; rumahfilm.org, Singapore Film