Jakarta. Legendary poet Chairil Anwar was known to take inspiration from the women in his life. The upcoming play "Perempuan-Perempuan Chairil," or "The Women of Chairil," which will be staged at Taman Ismail Marzuki in Central Jakarta this weekend, will invite the audience to get to know those women.
The play will cast prolific actor Reza Rahardian as Chairil, alongside high-profile actresses Marsha Timothy, Tara Basro, Chelsea Islan and Sita Nursanti.
Who Was Chairil?
Chairil was one of the key writers during the nation's struggle for independence and he revolutionized the use of the Indonesian language in literature. Born to a respected family in Medan, North Sumatra, in 1922, Chairil had access to a proper education since childhood – a privilege not many of his peers enjoyed, considering the fact that Indonesia was still a Dutch colony at the time.
For most of his short life he was known as a highly intelligent, opinionated and idealistic figure who loved intellectual banter.
Happy Salma, the producer of the play, said she has long wanted to bring Chairil's life to the stage. To her, his free-thinking spirit represented the nation's newfound freedom.
"I wanted to bring the spirit of independence shown through his work and his character. Indonesia was a young nation at the time but Chairil already managed to convey ideas of liberty," Happy said during a press conference in Jakarta on Oct. 31.
His sense of optimism is present in poems such as "Aku" ("I"), "Diponegoro," "Persetujuan Dengan Bung Karno" ("Agreement With Sukarno") and "Krawang-Bekasi."
However, some of his other poems reflect the anxiety that marked these uncertain times, such as "Derai-Derai Cemara" ("Fir Trees in Rows"), "Senja di Pelabuhan Kecil" ("Twilight at a Little Harbor") and "Doa" ("Prayer").
Poet and former journalist Ahda Imran, who is one of the play's three scriptwriters, classified Chairil as an Indonesian romantic poet.
"Chairil was born into a generation that was moving on from the past to an uncertain future, yet he displayed optimism. Intellectual desire, romanticism and an individualistic spirit were still foreign in Indonesia at the time," Ahda said.
The creators believe that by bringing out the women Chairil was involved with, the audience could catch a could glimpse of not only his muses, but also his ideas and general character.
There will be four segments to highlight his relationship with each of the woman. The first will involve Ida Nasution, a smart university student Chairil considered his intellectual equal.
"Ida was his debating partner. They were equally intelligent and uncompromising," said Marsha Timothy, who will make her stage-acting debut in the play.
Then Chairil met another clever student, Sri Ajati, who will be played by Chelsea Islan. Chelsea characterized Ajati as "fun, light and humble" and said this is a new challenge for her because she will have to sing a duet on stage, something she has never done before.
The next segment will portray Chairil's passionate relationship with Sumirat, who will be played by Tara Basro, known for her recent role in the film "Pengabdi Setan" ("Satan's Slave").
"This will be my first time in theater, which makes me nervous. This is so different from acting on screen. I'm still learning a lot," Tara said.
Hapsah, portrayed by Sita Nursanti, will be the subject of the play's final last segment. After a string of relationships, Hapsah was the one who eventually got Chairil to settle down.
"Hapsah was Chairil's real world, compared with his previously romantic, ideal world. He had to face the reality of having to work and provide for his family," Ahda said.
Bringing Poetry to the Stage
Reza, as the leading man, said the most difficult part in channeling Chairil is inserting poetic lines into his dialogue.
Play director and co-scriptwriter Agus Noor has designed the performance to be a "poetic biography."
A biography called "Chairil" by Hasan Aspahani, who is also a co-scriptwriter, is the main source for the plot. However, since accounts of Chairil's encounters with the women in his life are scarce, the scriptwriters decided to mix reimagined dialogues with lines from Chairil's poems.
"I will bring his relationships close to his poetry. A poetic biography means the audience can imagine what Chairil was like when he wrote the poems," Agus said.
Beside the dialogue, Chairil's poems have also been turned into two songs by Agus and indie band White Shoes and the Couples Company.
One is a musicalized version of his iconic work "Aku," while the other is a song titled "Hidup Hanya Sekali" ("You Only Live Once"), which features lyrics taken from various poems.
"Perempuan-Perempuan Chairil" is the Titimangsa Foundation's 18th production. Ticket booking information can be found on the foundation's website.