TORA, TORA, TORA! For a good part of his career, actor Tora Sudiro was known as the funny guy. But during his exclusive interview and photo shoot with DA MAN, we find out that not everything is a laughing matter to him. By M. Berlian
Even without a fake handlebar moustache and intricate traditional costume—which includes a pair of wings behind his back–Tora Sudiro would be a believable Ghatotkacha; a popular character in the Mahabharata epic. With charming good looks, the 38-year-old actor has just the right stuff that made him the perfect fit for the title role in Gatotkaca Jadi Raja (Ghatotkacha Becomes King) – Battle for the Throne, a play that took place in February in Jakarta.
But Tora sees it differently. “Ghatotkhaca’s too commercialized,” he says. “He’s everywhere. He’s the most handsome, the most fierce. He’s too idolized.” Tora, apparently, relates more to Ghatotkacha’s brother, Antareja, who only exists in the Javanese version of the great Indian epic. “Antareja doesn’t talk much,” he continues. “I want to be like him.”
It’s probably hard to believe that someone as famously humorous as Tora would side with a character, as legend has it, that’s so quiet and serious. But the truth is, most people have been so fixated on his involvement as one of the main cast-members of Extravaganza, a sketch comedy TV show, that they tend to forget that Tora got his big break as a serious actor, when he portrayed a gay man in the satirical drama, Arisan! (Social Gathering; 2003). That performance earned him the Best Actor award at the Indonesian Film Festival.
But after Arisan!, and especially after Extravaganza started, Tora has rarely appeared in anything but comedy shows and films, usually no-thinking slapstick. The last hard-hitting drama he was in was 2005’s surrealist flick Banyu Biru (Blue Banyu). He had to wait approximately six years before he landed a role in 2011’s sequel to Arisan! and this year’s Kita Versus Korupsi (Us Versus Corruption), an anthology movie that consists of four short films about corruption in Indonesia. His other films have mostly been slapstick comedies such as Quickie Express (2007), Benci Disko (Hating Disco; 2009) and Perempuan-Perempuan Liar (Wild Girls; 2011), to name a few.
In reality, Tora, who recently co-founded a community for moped enthusiasts—or in Indonesian, motor bebek—called Seloli (read: slowly), never fully sees himself as a funny guy. “I see myself as a serious man and a relaxed one at the same time,” he says. “I’m Benetton,” he adds with a big grin.
“People usually come up to me and say, ‘It’s easy to be you, you’re so carefree about everything.’ But it’s not true. I can be very self-conscious sometimes. And I do get mad now and again. There are times, when I’m about to shoot a scene, I’d ask [the director], ‘What should I do?’ And they’d say, ‘Just do you.’ Well, which part of me?”
Fortunately for DA MAN, we don’t get to meet the angry Tora during the photo shoot session. We do, however, meet his self-conscious side. Tora evidently gets camera shy every few takes or so. You can easily tell when he does, because that’s when he would try to counterbalance things by cracking jokes. Repeatedly telling us that he feels embarrassed because he’s never been in a fashion shoot before, laughter seems to be his highly effective defense mechanism.
Outfit by Versace
When it comes to being in front of a movie camera, though, Tora is not one to shy from serious hard work. “I want to make really good movies,” he says, when asked about his ambition. “I know some of the movies I’ve made are really bad; I accept that.”
He adds, “As an actor, I used to be able to make choices. For instance, I could choose to play in one movie over another because it was directed by this director and written by that writer and I believed that together, they would make a great result. But that’s not the case lately. The offers that are coming are usually for comedies. And maybe it’s because I used to be so picky, but now I feel like I have been left with no other choice [but to accept the only available roles.]”
He laments the trend that the majority of Indonesian moviegoers prefer mindless entertainment over great dramas or clever comedies, as well as the filmmakers who oblige them by making only non-thinking movies.
Well-made Indonesian movies are hard to find these days, so when Tora finally found himself one, he went all in. When respected actress and director Ine Febriyanti asked him to star in Selamat Siang, Risa! (Good Afternoon, Risa!), one of the four short movies compiled in Kita Versus Korupsi, Tora agreed and didn’t even asked to be paid, although he admits to receiving some fees.
For now, Tora is still in search of those above-mentioned “really good movies.” So far, nothing meets his expectations. “I know that I do not want any on-screen kisses or sex scenes now,” he says. “My kids are getting big; they can see and judge what they watch.”
While waiting for a good script, Tora is focusing on his ever-growing family. Tora’s wife, actress Mieke Amalia, gave birth to their first daughter together, Jenaka Mahila Sudiro, in March; each has two other daughters from previous marriages. “I’m tense! I never thought I’d have another child,” he admits.
“[Mieke and I] first met on a comedy show,” he says, talking about Extravaganza. Mieke became part of the cast in its third year. “I’m also known for my comedy acts, so I’ve always wanted to name my kid, Jenaka,” which means “funny” in Indonesian. “We needed a middle name, so we turned to the Internet,” he continues. “We found the word ‘Mahila’ and somehow it stuck with us. We found out later that it means ‘lady.’ So Jenaka Mahila means ‘a funny lady.’ We’ll call her Nunung,” he adds half-jokingly, referring to the name of an old-school Indonesian comedienne.
Outfit by Givenchy
Tora and Mieke live a rather quiet life now, but it wasn’t always that way. It’s a very different situation from a few years ago, when the pair first got together at a time when both were still married to other people. When the paparazzi and tabloid journos found out about their relationship, they became the regular daily topic for gossip shows and local tabloids. In the end, all the gossip and tittle-tattle died down and the two tied the knot in December 2009. And if the new tattoo of Mieke’s face, which is now permanently inked on his right wrist is any indication, Tora has finally found marital bliss with his second wife.
“I think [the key to a successful marriage] is you have to know your partner very well. Once you already know the bad and the good, then go for it. But if you don’t, you’d better be prepared for whatever happens next.”
Photographs: Julius Bramanto
Styling: Gabriela Batti