The Star columnist Karim Raslan explores Indonesia from the ground up in his new documentary Ceritalah Indonesia, and says he felt a personal connection with the people.
"All the stories I tell must have a personal connection. Without that, I would rather not write about it,” declares Karim Raslan.
The well-travelled, prolific writer and Southeast Asia commentator has certainly told a lot of stories. In fact, he continues to do so through Ceritalah, his weekly Tuesday column in The Star, as well as his other writings published in Singapore and Indonesia. He has authored five books, and appeared as a commentator on Southeast Asia on the BBC, CNN, Al-Jazeera and Bloomberg.
Karim has added another feather in his cap with the launch of Ceritalah Indonesia, a four-part documentary on the country's past, present and future, from the perspective of ordinary citizens. Directed by Tony Trimarsanto and produced by Mariza Hamid, the series is based on Karim’s writings and have been translated into “visual essays”.
“It’s a great opportunity that all started from the writing of the columns. It tells the story of how Indonesia has changed over the past few years, especially from 1998, when it was a nation under threat, with a lot of challenges in terms of security, politically and financially, and how it has transformed itself,” said Karim during a press conference after the launch of the series.
“Ceritalah Indonesia are stories from the ground up, stories told with Pak Tony, my director. Without him, they would have made no sense,” he said. “I’ve been writing about Indonesia for nearly 20 years, and in the past 10 years, I’ve been spending a lot of time down there. Then I told Mariza that I wanted to do something more visual, and she said, ‘Why don’t we try this?’”
The first episode, which aired on Astro Awani on March 21, took viewers to Solo and focused Sumartono, a 59-year-old social activist whom Karim says has gotten affiliated and involved in more NGO movements in Solo than anyone he knows.
“Pak Sumartono was actually one of the victims of the riots in 1998. After that, he doubled his contributions to the community. He is truly and extraordinary man,” said Karim.
In tomorrow’s episode, Karim heads to Aceh, which was devastated by the 2004 tsunami. There, he meets becak driver Pak David and local media practitioner Bulqaini, who take him through the city’s rebuilding efforts.
“Pak Bulqaini helped me to understand what happened in Aceh, especially after the tsunami,” Karim said. “It was amazing to see Aceh now. It had so much trouble with the tsunami and violence, and now people are going there as tourists. I tell everyone, go visit Aceh, it’s amazing.”
Subesequently, Karim will bring the show to Ambon, part of the Maluku chain of islands that was the scene of a bloody slaughter caused by religious tensions from 1999 to 2002. The series will then end in Surabaya, where he meets another influential individual, Ustad Khoiron and his wife Raudhatul, have been working to transform their neighbourhood, located right smack in the red light district of Surabaya.
“I like to tell stories about people I know very well, and I’ve known Pak Ustad for more than 12 years now,” said Karim. “(The show) all started from the writing, and all the writing is about these individuals. The amazing thing is the stories (of these individuals), and it's just a small slice of 240 million people.”
Karim added that Indonesia has undergone a very exciting transformation and he was honoured to have been able to observe and write about it.
“This is my perspective of Indonesia,” he said. “And in a way, for Malaysians, I always feel so much of our heritage comes from there and we should acknowledge that. For Malaysians, there are a lot of interesting parallels for us.”
After Ceritalah Indonesia, Karim’s next project will be Ceritalah Heroes in 2015, which will explore the lives and leadership lessons of prominent Southeast Asian leaders such as Indonesia's President Sukarno, Corazon Aquino of the Philippines, and Malaysia’s former PM Tun Abdul Razak.
"Ceritalah Indonesia" airs on Astro Awani (Astro Ch 501) on March 28, April 4 and 11 at 9:30pm. Condensed versions of the episodes are also available for viewing at The Star Online until April 16.