A silhouette stands tall on the stage behind a street lamp prop. He lights a cigarette and begins to soliloquy to the audience about women and his banter with his friend about them. The mysterious figure is Chairil Anwar: Indonesia’s prolific poet from the 1940s who is widely known for his individualist and existentialist poems that changed the face of Indonesian literature, and his banter was with HB Jassin, another literary figure of the time, which serves as the opening monologue for Perempuan Perempuan Chairil (Chairil’s Women).
On November 11 and 12, the Titimangsa Foundation together with the Bakti Budaya Djarum Foundation staged Perempuan Perempuan Chairil (Chairil's Women), a special play that was inspired by Hasan Aspahani’s book, Chairil. Held at Teater Jakarta in Taman Ismail Marzuki, the biographical play revolves around the life of the late poet and his relationships with four women: Ida Nasution, Sri Ajati, Sumirat and Hapsah Wiriaredja, each responsible for Chairil’s popular poems, which also serve as a bridge to a deeper understanding about the late poet’s life, troubles, and thoughts.
Divided into four acts, Perempuan Perempuan Chairil started off with Chairil (Reza Rahadian) visiting Ida Nasution (Marsha Timothy) in her study where the two boasted about their intellectualism and creative works. Chairil, who was known as a womaniser, tried to flirt with Ida, but felt dejected when she refused his advances. Although Chairil adored Ida’s modern mindset and ambitions, the two seemed like they couldn’t meet eye to eye.
And so, we moved on to the second act and met Sri Ajati (Chelsea Islan), who was also known for her beauty and intellect. A student at the time as well as an actress and radio announcer, Sri was keen on Chairil, who used to drop by her grandmother’s house during lunchtime. Chairil, with his charm and wit, tried to pursue Ida with many tricks such as promising to introduce her to Usmar Ismail (fun fact: Sri Ayati had joined Usmar Ismail’s theatre group at the time). However, Sri revealed to Chairil that she was engaged and about to marry a young doctor, giving young Chairil his second heartbreak.
Next, we met Chairil and Sumirat (Tara Basro), an equally beautiful and talented woman who fall head-over-heels for Chairil. The two shared a passionate yet short-lived romance because of Chairil’s refusal to make Sumirat his wife.
The last act showed Chairil settling down with Hapsah, an average woman who brought Chairil’s ego back down to earth. Living a simple life, the relationship was full of conflicts as Hapsah demands Chairil to provide, while he can’t justify her bureaucratic point of view. The two eventually separated after two years, but they had a baby girl named Evawani.
Directed by Agus Noor, the two-hour play succeeded in drawing the audience into the complicated life of Chairil Anwar by exploring his relationships with the four women. Each character was well-written and had enough time to share their stories and personal dilemmas. After albeit a slow start, Perempuan Perempuan Chairil managed to show a different side of the late poet’s character. Known for his womanising persona, the play cleverly dived into the topic but handled it well by also showing the vulnerable sides of Chairil that are often overlooked: his heartbreaks, his loneliness and being a misunderstood individual who tried to leave his mark on this world.
The well-written characters provoked the audience’s emotions thanks to the spectacular performances of the cast. Playing the lead character, actor Reza Rahadian returned on stage again this year with a sterling performance as the complicated Chairil Anwar. Reza’s voice, mannerism and anger will easily affect an audience, showing a different side of Chairil.
Meanwhile, the actresses gave an equally strong performance. Marsha Timothy stood out as the bright and strong-willed Ida Nasution, while Tara Basro shone brightly as Sumirat, evoking despair and the emotional frustrations of a woman. Sita Nursanti also excelled as Hapsah: her monologue that told us how she tried to understand Chairil, and failed, will touch anyone’s heart.
“Through his poetry, Chairil Anwar’s work serves as a reflective mirror of our history; on what it means to have one’s freedom, which will then impact the nation’s independence. This is also why I always wanted to produce a play based on Chairil’s life. Although he died young, but Chairil’s work will always be remembered as if he never left us. His passion will always live forever in all of us,” said Happy Salma, producer of Perempuan Perempuan Chairil and Founder of the Titimangsa Foundation.