Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Salim Bungsu--A Bouncing Ball of Teater Koma

(based on a backstage interview at GKJ and Teater Koma)


A little girl hurried home only to find that her father had been shot to death. She cried miserably. Everybody was terribly sad to witness the sudden death of the loving father. Little Salim was furious. He disliked the idea that the Dutch soldier had killed the little girl’s father. For a moment he wanted to hit the soldier but realized it was only a play. The play that Salim was watching on that Independence Day really affected him.



Days passed but little Salim couldn’t stop thinking about the play that he watched on Indonesia’s Independence Day. He remembered the scenes very clearly. “How could I be so affected? It’s unbelievable! Hmm… it would be nice if I could get emotional reactions like that,” he said to himself. From then on, little Salim set his heart on acting.

He started his acting career by joining a theater troupe, which was called Bencah Morarit, led by Toto Raharjo. Then in 1975 he moved to Teater Cinta and was renamed Salim Bungsu. The leader of the group, Haidir K. Rusmin, called him Salim Bungsu because he was the youngest child in his family. In 1979, along with Idrus Madani, who was his friend and also a member of Teater Cinta, he visited Teater Koma. They revisited Teater Koma again and again. On their eighth visit, Nano Riantiarno approached them and they expressed their intention to join the group. Then Salim and Idrus became new members of the prominent theater company. In Teater Koma, Salim Bungsu finally discovered a place where he really felt at home.

There’s nothing special about his looks. He is only around 160 centimeters tall, he is bald, and has a dark complexion. Jokingly he says, “I’m lucky that my children look like my wife so they didn’t turn out ugly like their Dad.” However, his acting ability is extraordinary. With his lively nature, and funny comments, Salim Bungsu has been able to hypnotize the audience with his every single performance, especially those of the phenomenal trilogy—Bom Waktu, Opera Kecoa and Opera Julini. Salim, who has a very nimble body, brought freshness to a three-and-a-half-hour play. He kept the audience under his spell. Salim brought the character of the cheerful, attentive, naive Julini to life. His interpretation of Julini made the character unforgettable to the fans of Teater Koma. Although Salim might be unattractive, he is truly a multitalented actor.

“If you ask how I can do those acrobatic movements, the answer is: because God has given me good health, not because I’m good.” He sincerely believes he cannot perform well without God’s blessing. “If God permits, nothing is impossible,” he adds. Salim is a man who trusts that everything God has decided must be accepted wholeheartedly. When his two older children, Achmad Zainal Hakim (1978 - 1985) and Novia (1980 -1982) passed away, Salim and his wife Muhayati accepted their deaths. Salim is a true believer in God.

He feels very blessed to be part of Teater Koma, which he considers one big happy family. He owes his success to so many people in the group, especially Nano Riantiarno and his wife Ratna. Teater Koma is his second home, a place where all members interact harmoniously. Everybody can talk to each other and share problems. Nano doesn’t believe in unequal treatment. All members are treated fairly. Seniority does not count. All players work hand-in-hand in harmony. They care about each other. Salim has good reasons to choose to stay in Teater Koma.
What does acting mean to Salim? “I enjoy every single character that I play, no matter what it is.” “Everytime I play a new character I feel like I’m reborn as a new person. Acting gives me the opportunity to take a break from reality and feel how it is to become somebody else. A poor man can be transformed into a conglomerate, a jobless person into a doctor, an ordinary housewife into a witch. Acting also enables me to learn about other people’s characters as well as my own. Acting enriches my soul because I can see life from many different angles.” Acting means a lot to Salim.

According to Salim, successful acting happens when the audience responds emotionally. This occurs when the audience can feel what the characters feel, so they laugh, cry, become angry or applaud. Although Salim often plays absurd characters, he disapproves of slapstick. “Slapstick is humorous acting that depends on stupid, meaningless, violent action. If people laugh at my stupid acting, I don’t feel satisfied. I feel uncomfortable when people think my stupid behavior is great fun.”

After so many years, acting has become an inseparable part of Salim’s life. He even has had to sacrifice his feelings. In 1985 he had to act in the premiere of The Julini Opera. Shortly before the show started, he heard shocking news. His first son, Achmad Zainal Hakim, had passed away. He did all he could to cope with his emotions. He prayed a lot. His friends stood by him. “I was in shock,” he admitted. “But I decided that the show must go on, so I went on stage.” It was a very difficult choice for Salim but he realized that people had paid to see the play, wanting to be entertained and looking forward to his performance. He did it! He performed so well that the audience gave him a standing ovation at the end of the play, but after the show he was overcome with grief. He burst into tears. Salim Bungsu was going through the most unbearable moment of his life.

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