Sukarno film reeling from controversy

INDONESIA - Post-production work is under way, and the trailers are already playing.

But a blockbuster film on the life of Indonesia's founding president Sukarno slated to open in December has drawn heat from one of his daughters, who feels the lead actor is not suitable to play her father.

The film director has shot back, saying the actor she prefers cannot pull off the playboy look when everyone knows the former president had an eye for women.

Ms Rachmawati Soekarnoputri, 62, and the younger sister of former president Megawati, thinks Ario Bayu, 28, is not "nationalistic" enough. (Incidentally, the actor stars as a police inspector in the new HBO series Serangoon Road, which premieres tonight.)

She had suggested the movie and had been helping producers with details of her father's life. But on Sept 12, she issued a lawyer's letter against production house Multivision Plus, demanding that the film Soekarno: Indonesia Merdeka be stopped.

Multivision's lawyers replied last week, saying that while they regret her decision to pull out, their clients have the right to go ahead though they remain willing to discuss her concerns and reshoot some scenes if necessary.

Referring to Ms Rachmawati's views on actor Ario Bayu's portrayal of her father, well-known director Hanung Bramantyo said: "We need professional actors who can bring his character to life... Nationalistic sentiment was not the only quality required to play Sukarno."

He also told reporters that Ms Rachmawati's preferred actor, Anjasmara, 37, could not pull off the "playboy" look. Indonesia's first president had a roving eye, Mr Hanung noted.

Ms Rachmawati's lawyer, Mr Ramdan Alamsyah, took offence - despite the fact that Sukarno married nine times - posting on Twitter: "This is an insult to Bung Karno."

But the ongoing dispute illustrates how, decades on, Sukarno and his legacy remain controversial.

Mr Bonnie Triyana, editor of history magazine Historia, described the objection to the choice of actor as "excessive".

"There's no such thing as a totally objective film when it involves a major historical figure, and as a work of art, it has a right to be aired," he said.

Born in 1901, Sukarno trained as an engineer, founded a pro-independence party, was jailed twice by the Dutch colonial authorities, and declared Indonesia's independence on Aug 17, 1945.

But tensions within the army over his support for the Indonesian Communist Party saw General Suharto take control in 1966.

Sukarno was effectively placed under house arrest and died in 1970.

It was only last year that the Indonesian government officially recognised him as a "national hero".

The film, which focuses on Sukarno's life up till Indonesia's independence, is one of the country's most expensive to date, costing some US$2.5 million (S$3.1 million).

The idea began two years ago, when Ms Rachmawati, who heads the Soekarno Foundation for Education, broached it with Mr Hanung, who then roped in movie producer Raam Punjabi, who heads Multivision Plus.

Ms Rachmawati and the foundation advised film-makers on Sukarno's life and personality, and the movie was shot over 70 days from May to July.

But Ms Rachmawati withdrew from the project in June, saying in writing that she had not been involved in deciding on the actors. She said she would produce her own film, titled The Last Days Of Bung Karno.

Soon after Multivision replied, seeking her understanding for its casting choices, her lawyer issued a letter.

"Bung Karno is an international figure," Mr Punjabi told The Sunday Times last week.

"I hope this ends here and we all can work together to make this film a success."

He plans to release the film in Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong, among others, in December, and rejects claims that the controversy was manufactured to promote it.

Historian Asep Kambali told The Sunday Times: "Regardless, the controversy has attracted people's attention. We need more such movies with attractive casting to bring these founding fathers to life."

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