NATURAL BORN FIGHTER. Legendary Indonesian actor Ari Wibowo spent his youth punching and kicking bad guys in action TV shows. But during an exclusive photo shoot and interview with the Langit Biru star, DA MAN finds out he’s not as merciless as some of his characters. By M. Berlian
Fresh-faced and in great physical shape, Ari Wibowo doesn’t look a day over 21, even though he’s been in show business, entertaining millions across the country for the past 21 years.
“Consistency,” the 40-year-old gent says. “That’s what’s important [in keeping fit]. To exercise over and over again. I’ve been consistently going to the gym since I was in junior high school.”
With the exception of weekends and sick days, Ari reveals that he’s always tried to maintain a daily exercise routine, wrestling through Jakarta’s horrid traffic to reach the gym on his other obsession: His Ducati motorcycle.
“I think the first time I really thought riding motorcycles was cool was after I watched CHIPs,” he explains, referring to the popular TV show about American motorcycle cops from the late 70s.
“I think that’s what’s so great about shows or movies. It can shape people’s future. I said ‘future’ because I remember the reason I learned martial arts in the first place is because I watched The Karate Kid. I decided to learn tae kwon do soon after. And because of that, when I was offered a role in this one TV show—it was a drama but it had an action scene at one point—they were excited to see that I was capable of doing all the fighting moves well. Since then, people consider me more as an action actor,” Ari adds.
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Ari is now far removed from those Deru Debu (Dust Storm)—a 1995 action-packed hit TV show—days. Nowadays, he’s opting for family-friendly shows such as Strawberry dan Vanilla or Arti Sahabat (The Meaning of Friendship) and another one that’s still in the works. Same goes for his choice in movies; his last two full feature-length films were the heart-wrenching Sepuluh (Ten), which was released in 2009, and Langit Biru (Blue Sky), which hits theaters in November 2011.
Directed and produced by two of Indonesia’s brightest filmmakers—Lasja Fauzia Susatyo and Nia Dinata—Langit Biru follows the story of a teenage girl named Biru (Indonesian for “Blue”), as she struggles through problems at school, puberty and an absent father. Ari plays David, the distant dad. Biru is quickly becoming a woman with physical changes “and David, as a single dad, who isn’t home that much because of his job as a pilot, has to learn to deal with the awkward situations.”
With two young boys of his own (Kenzo and Marco), Ari doesn’t find it difficult to work with and build chemistry with the young actors in the movie. When it comes to being an aviator, though, he got help from Captain Madjedi, the personal pilot of Indonesian President Yudhoyono.
Starring in Langit Biru certainly gives him a chance to seemingly fulfill every boy’s dream of becoming a pilot. But that’s not the only reason why Ari wanted to be in the movie. “It’s a musical; it’s something I’ve never done before. No, I don’t sing!” he says abruptly, even before DA MAN has a chance to ask. “Cool Colors was enough,” he adds, smiling rather bashfully, as he reminisces about the band he formed with three fellow actors/models during the Backstreet Boys era in the mid-1990s.
“Secondly,” he continues. “It’s the theme of this movie [that attracts me]. It’s about bullying in school. And personally, I’m very against Ospek,” Ari says, referring to the hazing and ritualistic humiliation that nearly all first-year students at each level of education throughout Indonesia must face.
Ubiquitous in Indonesian schools and universities, these initiation rituals have also been deadly on several occasions. “I think it’s not educational at all; it’s utterly useless. It has absolutely nothing to do with education … people have died because of this. It doesn’t make sense.”
There’s a reason for Ari’s apparent passion against bullying; back when he was still in school, Ari experienced it firsthand when his German mother and Indonesian dad decided to come back to Indonesia from Germany. “I had just moved from Germany [at age 10]. I couldn’t speak Indonesian yet,” he recalls. “There was this group of kids who used to call me ‘monkey’ in Indonesian all the time. I didn’t understand the word (monyet), so I just smiled at them. Then, one of my friends told me I was actually being picked on. He had to draw me a picture of a monkey for me to understand what the kids were calling me… About six months later, after I learned how to speak Indonesian, they stopped bothering me.”
Unfortunately for young Ari, the taunting didn’t stop with that group. “It happened outside my schoolyard. There were these several street children wandering around; I was still in elementary school and they were older than I was. I strolled past them and then they hit me; I don’t know why.” Being pragmatic, he did nothing and walked away. “Besides, they were all larger than me,” he adds, laughing.
Junior high school brought the fascination of martial arts and thereafter nobody wanted to get on his bad side ever again. He even spent high school trying his best to stick up for the nerds whenever the bullies started in on them.
“I guess that’s why this movie is so close to my heart,” he says of Langit Biru, adding that the film has taught him a lot. “Now, when I think of the time when I got hit, I regret that I didn’t fight back. Because this movie has a message: We have to stand up for ourselves. Even when it seems we’re going to lose, it’s better to fight than stay silent.”
Taking cues from Kate Winslet, who once said of her bullies, “Where are they now?” DA MAN asks Ari what he would like to tell the kids who taunted him. But Ari just laughs, saying, “I see now—thanks to this movie—sometimes there’s an underlying cause why people bully. They’re probably stressed. They probably have some issues at home. They probably get bullied by their dads and they have to take it out on their schoolmates… Like, the boy who hit me for no reason. I don’t know for sure but he must have had a very difficult life; he was frustrated, he probably had nothing to eat that day, and maybe hitting me was his only way to cope.”
Always the bigger man, Ari merely looks back on those days of being taunted with a knowing smile. His tone of voice is forgiving, when he concludes, “It’s part of life.”
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