Actress Diandra Paramita Sastrowardoyo, or Dian Sastro as she is popularly known, may have played notable roles in many Indonesian box office films, but to play Kartini, the national heroine in education and women’s rights, in her recent film project, Kartini, had a special meaning and was a huge opportunity for Dian.
Dian feels lucky and proud to be able to play Kartini, as she very much admires her progressive ideas on equality and the right of women to be educated. This is also the first film in Dian's acting career in which she plays a non-fictional character.
Dian went all-out to be Kartini and read all of Kartini’s letters and all the books about Kartini; she also learned Dutch and the Javanese dialect and adjusted some of her behaviour patterns to fit to someone in that era.
In theatres since April 19, the film is currently screening nationwide. Interviewed by Indonesia Tatler during a photo shoot for the May edition of Indonesia Tatler, Dian who is also an entrepreneur and activist, spoke to us about how challenging it was to play Kartini, what special preparations she made, as well as what has been the most rewarding thing so far for her about being involved in the film industry.
Tell us about your latest film Kartini. What was the most important aspect to you about the experience, and what is the biggest inspiration you took away from it?
I’m personally a big fan of Kartini, even before I had the opportunity to play her. So I think the opportunity to take the role was a privilege and I’m so lucky. I’m a big fan of Kartini because she basically inspires me in so many ways.
I read her work. I think she was very progressive and basically a genius from a very young age. At a time when we didn’t have much access to information, she was already thinking out of the box for so many people.
How did you prepare in advance for the role?
I did a lot of research and it had to be in multiple ways: not just book research, but also physical, such as visiting many different locations for research. I went to Rembang, the place where she lived after she got married. Because, it’s also the place where she lived when when she was still a girl, it’s been totally renovated by the current mayor.
And in Rembang, the house of her husband, it’s still very original and as it was 200 years ago. Because the mayor actually donated the whole house to the government to be a museum, so we can still see how she lived, her bathroom, what kind of shower she used and more. I can see the bed in which she gave birth and blew her last breath. I can see her room, next to her son’s room and her husband’s room.
I also learned a little bit of Javanese, or at least how to speak Indonesian with Javanese accent, and also a little bit of Dutch, because Kartini spoke with Dutch people and was actually very articulate. I think that’s what brought her way of thinking to a global mindset, because she managed to articulate her thoughts in foreign languages.
Therefore, her thoughts have not only been consumed by Indonesians or and Javanese people, but because she could communicate internationally, her thoughts have also been recognised internationally.
How does the character of Kartini relate to and resonate with you?
As an actor, you have the task of making a lot of bridges from yourself to the character you’re playing. And in this case, for Kartini, I was really making a lot of bridges and looking for similarities between myself and the character.
And to my surprise, by studying and studying more about her character, I could see more and more similarities. But one that is very significant is we have the same unfulfilled dream, which is getting educated abroad.
And that hasn’t happened in my case, so when I went through a lot of emotions playing the character: I could use a lot of my own emotions thinking about that same dream, because the whole journey in this film is basically rooting for Kartini to actually reach her dream. She wanted a scholarship eventhough at the end of the day, she couldn't take it.
What is your favourite scene in that film?
There are a lot of favourite scenes, but one of my favourites are the ones that let me to communicate intensely with the two girls who play Kardinah and Rukmini, played by Acha Septriasa and Ayushita. I think that these two were very fun to be with, and we are friends even off-screen.
I can relate to them on so many levels and that part of the shooting really didn’t feel like work at all, because we were actually having fun and conversing in Javanese.
Is there any fear or a sense of burden in playing high-profile figure like Kartini and if yes, how do you cope with it?
Before I begin, I was a little bit worried when I realised how much of a burden this could be for me—how big the responsibility was and the pressure to do well. But over time, when I began my research and started work, I worried less and less.
This was because I found that all the fear was counterproductive and I wouldn’t be able to work so well if I spent too much energy worrying. But to play Kartini involved a lot of stages: there were a lot of things to be researched, so many books that she wrote, and so many books that she read. So I basically 'downloaded' her way of thinking and grasped how she thought at that time.
And I had to learn how to move in Javanese tailoring, which is totally different with modern clothing. It involves changes in physiology, the way you walk, the way you behave, and the way you interact with surroundings. And that’s also a method of me getting into the character.
The point is, other than learning Javanese and Dutch language, there were so many things to do to be able to play this role. And yet, I did it step by step and at the end of the day I’m just glad I managed to do everything.
After Kartini, what’s your dream acting job?
One of my bucket list items was acting in a comedy, which I already did. The other was being in an action film and actually I did that this year.
After Kartini, I got the opportunity to play as a supporting actor in The Nights Comes for Us and it will be out next year. I only have a small role in that film, but this is quite a breakthrough for me, because I have always been associated with dramas, and I wanted to broaden my spectrum as an actor and to be able to play different roles and genres.
You’re arguably a 'selective' person in choosing film roles. Do you maintain a sense of 'exclusivity' intentionally in order to maintain your image as a good actress?
Actually, no. I’m quite welcome to any offer. Yes, we can do so many things at once, but in a year, I don’t think we can do more than four films, because films that are well made usually take a long time for everything from preparation to shooting, and filmmaking should be something serious and you should be doing it wholeheartedly. And with that kind of production, you can only do up to maybe three films.
Last year, I did Ada Apa Dengan Cinta 2 and Kartini; this year it was The Night Comes for Us, so I think that it’s not about being exclusive or not, but in order to evolve as a good actor, you also need to have a rich bank of emotions that draws on your own personal experiences in real life.
There is also a work-life balance and I like to keep things balanced between being present in my real life and being present in front of the camera. Because if I don’t take any breaks, I don’t think I would be able to give what it takes to be an actor.
So far what has been the most rewarding thing about being involved in the film industry?
To be able to be involved in film projects as an actor is such a prestigious job. The job requires so much creativity and flexibility, and you basically tell stories to people, and this is great.
I think that as humans, we write stories and tell stories including through film. So film is a way to connect to other people and to make people remember how human they are.
Growing up, what kind of shows had the biggest impact on you?
I like a lot of films, such as Dead Poets Society, Running With Scissors and The Science of Sleep. I also like Wes Anderson’s and Michele Gondry’s films.
Which actor do you look up to, and have you had any mentors?
I’m inspired by a lot of actors. I like Natalie Portman and I also look up to Meryl Streep and Johnny Depp, but I’m just a fan. To make my acting better, I watch a lot of films to broaden my references.
Your advice to aspiring actors out there?
Watch a lot of films! Even if they’re not good and even if it’s not your personal preferences, watch them! Don’t even dare to call yourself a filmmaker or actor if you don’t like watching films, and watch how other people are doing it.
You can also watch the video interview with Dian on Tatler TV.