Despite being the first revolutionary thinker to have thought of “the Republic of Indonesia” long before the nation was even declared, Tan Malaka’s name keeps being left out, misunderstood, understudied, and often stigmatized. The New Order regime successfully reduced his legacy to that of a traitor and communist sympathizer, so much so that to this day national school textbooks don’t even mention his name.
This was the reason why filmmaker Daniel Rudi Haryanto created Maha Guru Tan Malaka, to introduce the figure to the younger generation. The 32-minute travel documentary captures Malaka’s intellectual journey back when he was in the Netherlands.
Guided by a college student named Marco (starring Rolando Octavio), we get to trace Tan Malaka’s footsteps around Harleem and Leiden, where he developed his knowledge, politics, and ideology. Throughout the journey, Marco was accompanied by a prominent historian Harry A. Poeze, who has dedicated decades of his life to doing research on Indonesian history.
Poeze told Marco how the writer of Naar de Republiek Indonesia used to live, how good he was in school, which books inspired him the most, and how he went through his days.
What’s interesting about the short film though is how the story is told in vlog-style and animation. Instead of putting Malaka on a sacred, untouchable pedestal, Maha Guru Tan Malaka humanizes him, and not without reasons.
“I realize that time has shifted and our community has transformed. The young generation no longer relies on one ultimate source, such as film, to gain information; they’d like to get involved in the search of knowledge, to browse and google things up,” said Daniel, who had previously directed Prison and Paradise as well as Fluid Boundaries.
“So I decided not to cram everything in the film. I simply want to trigger the youths’ thirsts and curiosity about one of our founding fathers. I want them to wonder: Who is he? Why is he important? Why haven’t I heard about him before, and so on,” Daniel said, adding the short-film specifically targets high school students.
During his interview with Magdalene, Daniel also mentioned how he figured that his strategy was actually working.
“Many historian friends and film critics questioned my approach of using informal vlogging format to deliver a film about an important person. But based on the feedbacks I had from high school students, they said they actually loved the film. They wanted to watch more and find out more about Tan Malaka. That is all I need to hear,” he added.
The YouTube trailer of Maha Guru Tan Malaka earned 1.4k views in a month, an achievement in itself.
“My previous ‘serious’ films didn’t even receive that much attention. Even after a year, the viewers failed to reach any significant numbers. The fact that Maha Guru Tan Malaka has been viewed so many times proved that my approach works,” Daniel said.
Funded by the Ministy of Education and Culture, the film was shot last year, and it took three months to finish. The film is well-received since it was launched in Malang at the end of March. But plans for public screening in different cities in Indonesia have to be put on hold after they received some threats in Padang, causing them to cancel the screening last month. For now, the film will only be aired in private screenings.
Watch the trailer of Maha Guru Tan Malaka:
Photo by Zulfikar Efendi.