Fri, 03 Jan 2003

Remembering a film legend, Ratno Timoer

Joko Anwar, Contributor, Jakarta

Back when the local film industry was in full bloom and filmgoers would celebrate local releases, a movie titled Si Buta Dari Goa Hantu (The Blindman from the Ghost Cave) became hugely popular.

Although it was just one of the countless locally made supernatural/martial art flicks, the presence of the leading actor playing the blind hero was undeniably very strong, and caught the audience's attention.

In fact, the movie's very title, based on a comic book by the semi-legendary artist Ganes TH, still pops up in daily conversation -- largely due to the actor's commanding presence and memorable performance. Sturdy and quiet, the actor oozed with charisma even though it was such a cheesy movie.

"Ratno Timoer did not speak much even in real life," filmmaker/politician Sophan Sophiaan said about the well-known actor, who died at the age of 60 on Dec. 22 from a stroke.

"He was the kind of person who could speak with his eyes," added Sophan who has worked several times with Ratno, including directing him in Melintas Badai (Going Through the Storm), a drama that was released in 1983.

Born in Surabaya, the capital of East Java, on March 8, 1942, Ratno, whose real name is Ahmad Suratno, was making a living by selling books in his hometown in the early 1960s, when a friend asked him to join as a film crew with him.

Later on, he became one of the production assistants for Daerah Tak Bertuan (Land Without a Lord) in 1963 before kicking off his own acting career a year later by playing an extra in Di Ambang Fajar (Close to Dawn), which was directed by then well- known Pietrajaya Burnama.

He appeared as an extra in several different films and graduated to some minor roles before he landed a supporting lead, enabling him to get his foot in the door, in Macan Kemayoran (The Tiger of Kemayoran) in 1965, directed by Wim Umboh, one of the most influential film directors in the country's film history.

Ratno finally got his big break with a starring role in an action-packed thriller titled Jakarta-Hong Kong-Macau, directed by Turino Djunaidy in 1968.

But it was his heroic performance in Si Buta dari Goa Hantu, which launched him into stardom. Almost everyone who lived through the 1970s would be able to recall his snake-skinned, long, greasy-haired portrayal of the comic book hero.

In the same year he emerged as an icon in the local film scene, he married Tien Samatha who proved to be a supportive partner throughout his career. The couple had five children.

His film company, which he and Tien established later in the 1980s, was named Daya Istri Film, which literally means "the wife's energy film".

He won even more recognition when he was named Asia's most popular actor at the Asia Pacific Film Festival in Seoul, South Korea, in 1973 for his performance in yet another martial arts film, Pendekar Bambu Kuning (Yellow Bamboo Warrior).

His talent was not only apparent in martial arts film. He also proved that he possessed a gift for performing in dramas with his role in Cinta (Love), also directed by Wim Umboh, which earned him a Best Actor Award at the Indonesia Film Festival in 1975.

"Wim tailor-made the role for Ratno because he knew Ratno did not need many words to give a dramatic performance," Sophan said.

Feeling dissatisfied with only acting, Ratno moved on to become a screenwriter and director, but unfortunately, for easily forgettable works, such as Ciuman Beracun (Poisonous Kiss) and Jangan Kau Tangisi (Don't Cry about It) in the 1970s.

His acting career was much more memorable than his flirtations with directing, which ended up culminating in an unimpressive, corny action/revenge flick titled Marni, Gadis Berdarah Dingin (Marni, the Cold-Blooded Girl) in 1984. The movie, which starred Yati Octavia, told the story of a girl who hunted down men, who had raped her, with a crossbow.

It was his shining personality that made him stand out as one of the most respectable figures in the local film industry and which ultimately lead him to a then very important position: the chairman of the Indonesia Film Performers Association (Parfi) from 1983 to 1998.

"Mas Ratno was very friendly but he could also be very strict as a leader," said actor/comedian Sys NS, who replaced him as Parfi chairman.

Sophan praised Ratno as a friendly person in his unique, quiet way, but he was quick to point out that he was also very honest.

"If anybody had a run-in with Ratno, it was someone who had a personal or political agenda which Ratno would never accommodate when he was still a chairman of Parfi," Sophan said.

Despite the fact that his career path was not always a smooth one, Ratno Timoer, who was buried in Cibodas, Banten, will always be remembered as one of the most memorable actors in the history of this country's film industry.