IN THE ZONE. Actor and martial artist Ammar Zoni chats with DA MAN’s Joezer Mandagi about his journey from bratty high-schooler to silat athlete and action star
Listening to Ammar Zoni recount his life’s story feels like going through the plot of an old-school martial arts movie. There’s the troubled youth in need of real life experience, the wise elder who happens to be a martial arts master and enlightenment hiding beneath age-old traditions waiting to be uncovered. “When I was in high school, I was quite the troublemaker,” the silat athlete-turned-actor begins. “Eventually, my father had me move to Padang. There, I lived my grandparents.”
As fate would have it, Zoni’s grandfather is a respected datuk, or elder, and a longtime practitioner of West Sumatera’s traditional martial art. “So, I was taught by my grandfather,” Zoni continues, “and my interest for silat really grew.” Two years of training then led him to win second place during the 2005 regional Sports week in Jakarta. He has also performed in demonstrations abroad including, most recently, in Hong Kong in front of the royal family of Brunei.
Silat, however, was not the only art form that Zoni was passionate about, as he was also drawn to the world of showbiz. “Eventually, i took up acting classes at eka Sitorus’ school of acting and learned theater for two years,” he recounts. “And then, I got my first film.” For his acting debut, Zoni was cast in “Retak Gading,” which literally means “Cracked Ivory” and is a reference to a popular Indonesian proverb about how nothing in this world is perfect. It was quite the experience for Zoni, especially since it meant an opportunity to work with some of Indonesia’s acting heavyweights. “I performed with Christine Hakim, Jajang C. Noer, Chelsy Liven and many more,” he goes on. Alas, it was an imperfect world, indeed, as the movie came out during a time when the national film industry hadn’t really taken off yet. His TV debut, in “Kanza,” was similarly short-lived.
Nevertheless, as the saying goes, what doesn’t kill you simply makes you stronger. After what may have looked like a rough start, Zoni finally found his first real breakthrough in the über-popular “7 Manusia Harimau” (roughly “the Seven Human Tigers”). “This series was adapted from the bestselling novel by Motinggo Boesje,” Zoni explains, “and I was offered the role of Rajo Langit. It was a very interesting character and I went on to play in more than 700 episodes.”
“When I was in high school, I was quite the troublemaker”
As the long-running series finally wrapped up in early July, the 23-year old Jakarta native set his eyes on new ventures. “I’m now preparing for a new TV series and also a film,” he clarifies. “It’s going to be a drama show, but we don’t have a fixed title yet because, you know, with a sinetron (soap opera) anything can change in an instant.”
For the upcoming but still unspecified movie, however, Zoni will return to his favorite genre, action. it certainly helps that Indonesian silat and Indonesian action movies are enjoying a new renaissance. “The first impression many people—especially youngsters today—get when hearing the word silat is that it’s all about supernatural stuff, ancient mysticism and so on,” Zoni points out. “Fortunately, our seniors like kang Yayan Ruhian, Iko Uwais and the others have painted silat in a new light and motivated everybody, including me.” Then he adds: “And I want to be like them. If I could surpass them, then, thank God; if not, then at least I want to go to their level until I can break through to Hollywood.”
That is, by the way, no idle boast. For one, Zoni was actively involved in preparations for “The Night Comes for Us,” which had been hailed as the third “The Raid” movie and would have featured many of the original cast from the first two “The Raid” films. “I trained for three months there,” he reminisces, “with daily physical workouts, but the project ended up falling through.”
Even as he delves ever deeper into the glitz and glamor of showbiz, at the end of the day ammar Zoni remains a silat student at heart. “Like I said earlier, a lot of people perceive silat as something mystical and old-school,” he contends. “But silat actually means silaturahmi, kinship, between the almighty and humans. the goal of silat is to understand and learn about ourselves, how we see ourselves, other people, God as well as nature. Like in the proverb, ‘alam takambang jadi guru,’ nature is our teacher.” If that sounds familiar, you probably heard that very line in the opening monologue of the 2009 action flick “Merantau,” which kick-started the whole putting-silat-on-the-world-map business. Who knows, perhaps now we’re looking at the next Indonesian actor who will also merantau (as in, make his way) to the global stage.
See the outtakes below: