“Some people find it hard to believe that Madiba didn’t just fall from the sky.”
One of Nelson Mandela’s estranged daughters reportedly uttered that line to a foreign journalist several years ago. Family feud notwithstanding, I could understand where she was coming from.
Public figures, great leaders particularly, have served as a source of respect, loyalty, even awe, for millenniums. From cave drawings, monument carvings, scroll writings to the days of 24/7 TV and social media, these figures are painted and glossed over repeatedly, often mixed with burning desires from family or diehard supporters to protect and preserve a certain image, they easily become larger than life. Looming so large that public easily forgets that not only these figures aren’t perfect, they’re allowed to be humanly imperfect.
Which explains why whenever a biopic of a public leader or person emerges that varies differently than the established image or accounts, uproar ensues. Justified or not, sometimes legal suits.
Certainly there are always petty gossips, unfounded rumors and blatant slanders circling any public figure like February’s darkest cloud—in direct proportions to the public scale of the figure. It’s the tough job of any biographer or filmmaker to sort through this jumbled mess and pull out an accurate portrayal of a public figure’s character, unbecoming or not, and account of events, unsavory or not. The longer the time retraced and the fewer the sources available, the more interpretations kick in. And the less the project is intended to be documentary, the more fictionalization or dramatization is thrown in. Whether the completed biography will then clear up or add more to the aforementioned February’s darkest cloud often, again, will depend on viewers’ interpretations. At the very least for the new biography to make a meaningful remark it needs to bring forth a private side to public.
Mandela’s daughter’s blurted out comment is the perfect example of how wide that gap between public and private persona remained, even for someone as long and well-documented as her father. Various historical accounts have long suggested a side of Mandela as distant father and philandering husband, as the recent Hollywood’s award-winning movie Invictus subtly pointed. And the daughter’s comment illustrates how further unsaintly, non-angelic these private sides of a man to his family, in stark contrast to his public persona we’ve come to respect or adore.
The same hot issue is surrounding the newly-released biopic Soekarno. The difference is the filmmaker has managed to bring to light some different sides of Soekarno’s characters while it’s his daughter that insists otherwise—holding on to what I can only describe as the well-curated, long-preserved imagery of strong statesman, hotly-nationalistic hero and all-around sinless sage, used mostly as a tool for his politically-charged descendants. With 2014 election coming up, after consecutive losses in previous elections, no wonder the family is flabbergasted.
I’m not a movie critic by any definition– there are professionals who can wonderfully dissect Soekarno biopic for all its content and cinematographic elements. As a whole, the movie was just okay for me, but I particularly loved how they managed to show how Soekarno was capable to hesitate, to get afraid, to compromise, to be culpably human at times.
Because to me that’s how real life is. The more responsibilities you have at work or in society, the harder the options are—it’s usually between a bad choice and a worse one, each with its own often damning consequences. A great leader is someone who can ponder those options and finally choose one, ready to bear the brunt of his or her decision. Those controversies involving Japanese colonialists seemed callous, but the other options often meant more or longer suffering for the people, so I understood and respected him for his eventual decisions.
As for often hesitating and uncertain– wasn’t it Mandela himself (or maybe John Wayne) who once said that a brave man wasn’t someone who had no fear, but rather someone who would charge ahead, because they needed to act, in spite of the fear? I personally think that someone with consistently limitless valor is delusional, disturbed or desperate—definitely not a leader material.
Or was it the unapologetically salacious romances shown that subconsciously got the family riled up? Was it even an unknown state secret? The only thing the movie did was to show that despite the politically-correct statements of family members issued throughout the years, his roving eye did painfully wound everyone involved. Heck, it only captured the drama between Inggit Ganarsih and Fatmawati, imagine if all the love tales were told? All hell would break loose.
Against all the odds, despite of the shortcomings, Soekarno in the movie rose above and beyond. That portrayal was more colorful, relatable and current than the almost beatific, obsolete persona his family and political party have peddled over the years. How ironically myopic that they failed to see how more realistic this image might work for future generation, including first-time voters in 2014.
Madiba didn’t fall from the sky. Neither did Soekarno. And thank God for that, because it means humans aren’t precariously dependent on godsend angels. On our own we still hold a chance to rise above and beyond, as they have. Thank you, Hanung Bramantyo, for bringing forth this Soekarno and making him current to today’s Indonesia.