Exclusive Feature: Gandhi Fernando

CHANGING OF THE GUARD. Gandhi Fernando opens up about the trials and tribulations of being an Indonesian filmmaker and about the joys of becoming a game-changer.


Outfit, scarf and shoes by Louis Vuitton

Having to break new ground in a well-established industry is no small feat, especially in one as dynamic as Indonesia’s film industry. Actor, director, and producer Gandhi Fernando is all too familiar with the difficulties awaiting new players eager to carve their own niche in the face of firmly entrenched competitors and deep-rooted alliances. Still, he soldiers on. And he’s been quite busy as a result.

“I’ve just released ‘Pizza Man’ in theaters,” he begins, “And we’ve just done shooting ‘Zodiac Theory,’ and I’ve also wrapped up ‘Midnight Show,’ a thriller-slasher film. I’m also about to start promoting the sequel to ‘Comic 8,’ since I’ll be in it as well.” Not that this is anything unusual for him. When asked about what he does outside of work, he sheepishly replies, “Nothing, that’s it.” Then, he laughs while adding, “I literally have no life. I even work on Sundays.”


Outfit by Etro, bracelets by John Hardy

While his drive is clearly evident, he also has the know-how to back it up. Fernando learned the finer points of filmmaking and acting at the New York Film Academy in Los Angeles. “I also double-majored in business and management of entertainment at UCLA [University of California, Los Angeles],” he adds. All that sounds indeed like the complete package: an actor trained in both stagecraft as well as the nitty-gritty details that keep the stage in business. What he wasn’t prepared for when he returned to Indonesia in late 2012, at least not initially, was the realities of the local showbiz industry.

“Our country and our people don’t really support national films,” he laments. “While out there they’re really rallying behind their own films. They’ll even block foreign films wherever possible.” It’s a classic paradigm in the country, with imported films drawing in huge crowds and little appreciation afforded to local productions. The whole situation is doubly ironic for Fernando, who found that foreign audiences were apparently quite intrigued when he tried screening titles like “Laskar Pelangi” and “30 Hari Mencari Cinta.”


Outfit by Etro

This lack of appreciation is also the reason behind Fernando’s reluctance to release his movies on DVD. “They’ll get pirated,” he exclaims. “The DVD business here amounts to 1,000 to 2,000 copies per title, at most. One day you release a DVD, the next day it’s already on YouTube.” He goes on to point out that with the cost and time required to make a movie—any movie, for that matter—making DVDs for the local market is simply not worth it.


Outfit by Hermès

Still, these fundamental hitches haven’t really put much of a dent in Fernando’s passion for filmmaking. “Ever since I was young, whenever I saw a movie, I felt like I really wanted to be inside those worlds—those imaginary worlds unreachable in real life,” he reminisces. “Acting looked like a job that wasn’t hollow, because every moment would be different.” Quite fittingly, his filmography so far is incredibly diverse. There’s a straight-up comedy (“Pizza Man”), one drama (“The Right One”), one horror (“Tuyul”), a romantic comedy (“Zodiac Theory”) and one upcoming thriller (“Midnight Show”).


Necklace by John Hardy

Interestingly, the way he finally secured his place as a mover and shaker is, in a way, a direct result of the clash between his dreams and the realities of Indonesia’s showbiz scene. “The process of filmmaking is very lively, but the business part really, really sucks,” he concedes. Which is quite understandable, as the “old guard” of the industry can often be wary of letting young upstarts take a piece of the lucrative movie pie.


Outfit by Etro, bracelet by John Hardy

Fed up with endless casting calls and playing in cliché sinetron series, Fernando decided to open his own production house, Renee Pictures. “I will not wait for someone to bring me flowers,” he says. “I’m planting my own garden.” What’s even better, though, is the way he uses this garden of his to allow other people a chance to blossom. “Most of the people involved in my productions are new directors, new cameramen or new actors.” These include some familiar names here at DA MAN, such as J. Ryan Karsten as well as former DA MAN Darling Tara Basro, who got her first leading role in Fernando’s “The Right One.”


“I will not wait for someone to bring me flowers”


Of course, he’s also making waves by introducing a lot of novel ideas to Indonesia’s cinema. “Pizza Man,” for example, is arguably the country’s first ever adult comedy flick—“adult” as in actually written with a mature audience in mind instead of being crass and vulgar. “I’ve never intentionally tried to be a trendsetter or make something new,” Fernando points out, adding that he simply wants to avoid doing something that’s clichéd and commonplace.

So, what does Gandhi Fernando have in store for his audiences in the near future? “There’s this book, titled ‘London Angel,’ which I’ve already bought the rights to and I’m going to produce this one.” Actually, this one is quite unexpected, as he rarely, if ever, works on anything but his own stories. It was literally a chance encounter: A producer/director/actor was casually browsing in a bookstore when he just happened to flip through this book and instinctively knew that it would make a great movie. Actually, this sounds like the beginnings of rather intriguing story in itself. Only time will tell as how the story unfolds.

WATCH: DA MAN asks Gandhi Fernando about his most embarassing childhood memory

Photography Wong Sim
Styling Peter Zewet
Styling Assistant Triska Putri
Styling Intern Galedda Azzahraa
Videography Fickar Hajar
Grooming Ria Sambuaga
Location Shangri-La Hotel Jakarta (Jl. Jend. Sudirman Kav. 1, Jakarta 10220; +62 21 2922 9999; shangri-la.com/jakarta)