Sun, 09 Mar 2003

Rachel Maryam, the girl next door

Joko Anwar, Contributor, Jakarta

As the number of locally made movies has seemingly increased in the past three years, new talents, both in front or behind the camera have also begun to emerge.

In the race to achieve the biggest-star status in the newly reborn film industry, 23-year-old Rachel Maryam Sayidina is definitely one of the front runners.

Sweet-natured and refreshingly open, Rachel possesses a unique combination of maturity and child-like charm.

She made a big entrance into the industry by taking a leading role in Riri Riza's Eliana, Eliana (2002). Though a commercial failure, the stylized, absorbingly winning drama received a great response from critics.

Her portrayal as a woman trying to escape her traditional upbringing in the movie represents her true nature as a free- spirited person.

Her decision not to complete her study in a hotel and tourism college in her hometown Bandung, West Java proved this.

"I couldn't take it anymore. I went to school where I had to wear a uniform. We even had to use the same color lipstick," Rachel said.

Blessed with an instinctive grasp for acting and charisma to generate a major screen presence, Rachel was born a star.

As a kid, little Rachel acted as she were already an actress. She also liked directing friends performing a story she made up. In high school, she organized her friends to establish a drama club.

Yet her dream to become a real screen performer only came true two-years ago.

When she was a college student in Bandung, she happened to meet singer/novelist Dewi Lestari in a store. Being a fan, Rachel quickly introduced herself to Dewi who was quickly impressed by Rachel's personality.

Dewi, who wrote the bestselling novel Supernova, at the time was working on a novel called Keenan Kugy. When she showed the novel to her brother, TV drama director Kay Simangunsong, he immediately suggested that the story would be great for a TV drama.

Dewi agreed to write the script, but only if Kay cast Rachel in the lead.

Kay, who never heard of her (Rachel had only done some TV commercials), found a dead end in trying to find Rachel, and Dewi, who only met her once, was not a big help either.

When Kay happened to visit a TV station, his eyes were set on a very spirited girl whom he thought would be a great substitute for Rachel. Little did he know that the girl was actually the girl he had been trying to meet.

However, when the script for Keenan Kugy took longer than they thought, Kay cast Rachel as the title character in the TV series Strawberri (Strawberry) currently aired by SCTV.

Even though she started in a dramatic role in Eliana, Eliana, Rachel then took a turn as a sweet young woman named Renata in lightweight romantic comedy Andai Ia Tahu (If He Only Knew, 2002).

She quickly became a nice-girl-next-door icon.

Her performance in the title role in Strawberri as a wacky sweet girl firmed her image.

"The director got this idea: What if a strawberry is turned into a woman? And he thought it would be me," Rachel said and chuckled.

Rachel admitted to be quite comfortable about her established image, which seems to lack edge.

"It's nice to be loved," she said.

She is, however, quite worried she may become typecast.

"Now some people think that when I act in a movie, I am merely being my (cheerful) self. But I actually am a complex person," Rachel said.

"There is Renata is me, there is also Strawberri, and Eliana, of course," Rachel said.

When being asked if she was also sad and lost like her Eliana character, she admitted that it was quite true.

"I don't why but I am always kind of lonely. Perhaps because I lost a father figure at an early age."

However, Rachel did not get sentimental.

"I grew up watching my parents fighting. But it didn't make me feel depressed or something."

She even admitted that she wasn't disappointed when her parents decided to get a divorce when she was at junior high.

"I really think it is the best thing for them. Why should two people who never get along stay in a marriage?" she said, not that she does not believe in marriage.

"People make mistakes. They choose a wrong person to be with. So why stay in a mistake?"

She, however, admitted that she could not live without having someone at her side.

"What I know for sure is that I just can't live without a boyfriend," Rachel said.

"That's why breaking up with someone is a very horrible thing for me."

She added that she was independent enough to be able to manage her career life, but she would always need someone as an "emotional companion".