Sunday, January 16, 2011

Untuk Sebuah Nama (Indonesia, 1985)

With Michael Jackson fever unabated, and people more willing than ever to spend their money on products of even the most outrageously ersatz nature bearing his name, this truly may be Untuk Sebuah Nama’s time. Be advised, however, that while the film's credits play over a series of familiar publicity stills of the man to the tune of his hit "Thriller", Untuk Sebuah Nama (in English: For a Name) is not about Michael Jackson per se. Instead, it is a drama about the tribulations and triumphs of a Michael Jackson impersonator, here played by Mustafa Jackson, who -- if my Google Translator aided research serves me well -- actually won some kind of national Michael Jackson impersonator contest in Indonesia during the mid 80s and went on to have a modest film career as a result.

Our story begins with the music loving Mikki and Mary, inseparable young friends who are separated nonetheless. Mary, you see, is the daughter of the wealthy Mr. Broto (Zainal Abidin), for whom Mikki's sweet old ma (Nani Wijaya) works as a maid. Broto disapproves of the friendship between his daughter and the lowly Mikki, and when he fears they are becoming too close, has one of his henchmen frame him and his ma for robbery. As a result, Mikki and ma are forced to leave their hometown in shame.

Fast forward a dozen years or so and Mikki (Mustafa Jackson) is now a lanky young man with two gigantic caterpillars resting on his brow, busking in the streets and cafes of the big city with his loyal but tragically drug addicted pal Tommy (Baron Herman).

Mary, for her part, has gone on to become a big pop star, as we see when she performs her dazzling stage revue in front of a politely enthusiastic audience seated in what looks like a high school auditorium.

Also on the bill is Mary's soon-to-be ex boyfriend, the also mega-successful pop star Deddy (Dolly Marten), whose stage show is no less breathtaking than hers. Deddy, sadly, is a big jerk, a fact we will see demonstrated in a later scene in which he manages to completely alienate his well-intentioned manager Mus (Cok Sembara).

And it is somewhere around this point in Untuk Sebuah Nama that I began to get a distinct feeling of deja vu, as if I had seen all of this somewhere before...

...Although I couldn't quite put my finger on where.

Tommy eventually stumbles upon an ad for a big Michael Jackson impersonation contest and, reflecting upon the fact that his pal Mikki does indeed look quite a lot like a sort of mish-mash of Michael Jackson during every stage of his long process of deracination, encourages Mikki to sign up. Mikki goes on to sweep the contest with his lip sync routine to "Beat It", impressing Mus, who happens to be in the audience, in the process. The big time manager puts Mikki under contract, and, after a training montage set to "Sussudio", the youth, now dubbed "Mikki Jackson", has risen to national superstardom as Indonesia's number one Michael Jackson impersonator -- an idea that would seem preposterous, but for the fact that Mustafa Jackson's presence in this film is testament to it being somewhat based in reality.

And here I must say that, once again, I was nagged by that vague feeling of familiarity, as if I had seen all of these events play out in some other context. But where?


Eventually, Mikki's high flying Michael Jackson impersonation duties bring him back in touch with Mary, and the two rekindle their friendship, which soon leads to romance. One night, Mary brings her father backstage to meet Mikki, but Mr. Broto, upon recognizing Mikki's ma, flies into a rage and once again demands that the two be separated. Meanwhile, the loathesome Deddy, whose career has seen a sharp downturn since his casting away of Mus, has become so consumed with jealousy over Mikki's success that he is now willing to resort to criminal means to bring about his ruin.

And here it finally starts to dawn on me.... yes, I can almost see it... there it is... it's...


That's right, people. Untuk Sebuah Nama is an Indonesian remake of the bafflingly beloved Bollywood trash classic Disco Dancer, only here retooled as the fictionalized biopic of a Michael Jackson impersonator. It would even seem to be a pretty faithful remake of Disco Dancer, though to say for sure I would have to watch Disco Dancer again, and that is something I'm simply not prepared to do. Do you hear me? I'M NOT GOING TO DO IT!

To be honest, as much as its second hand nature would seem to make it ripe for ridicule, Untuk's substituting of Michael Jackson mania for disco-mania makes it come off as being a little more in touch with its era than its inspiration. As a result, it lacks that weird, time-warp quality that lends Disco Dancer so much of its broken appeal. This is not to say that Untuk isn't silly; it's just that it's silly more in the way that all pop music movies from the 80s are silly.

It's also not to say that there isn't, as with Disco Dancer, plenty of ludicrous costumery on display. At one point, evil pop star Deddy wears a baby blue bow and ribbon in his hair, along with a colorful football jersey that has the puzzling slogan "Lay-Out" emblazoned across its front. And Mary, apropos of the times, is freighted under both gigantic hair and sheath upon sheath of white lace. The production numbers also go a long way towards giving us just about as much of feathers and spandex as we could possibly desire. The whole film, in fact, could be seen as a plot by the unions to employ every overly exuberant backup dancer in Indonesia.

Of course, where Untuk Sebuah Nama really comes up lacking in contrast to Disco Dancer is in the absence of Bappi Lahiri's awful but undeniably catchy songs. These are instead replaced largely by tracks from Thriller and other English language hits of the day -- which is all fine, I guess, though you really don't need to track down an Indonesian Michael Jackson impersonator drama in order to hear those songs. If you are, however, determined to find a reason to watch this film, there's always Mustafa Jackson's extraordinarily weird face, which provides a source of endless fascination.

Although, granted, he still looks a hell of lot more normal than Michael Jackson did over the last decade or so of his life. Hey, I'm just saying.


Tars Tarkas said...

That guy looks like an elf from LOTR!

Prof. Grewbeard said...

first thing i've seen online in a long time that really scared me, if only for a moment...

Todd said...


Prof: Then you're a stronger man than I am. Keep in mind, though, that being scared and then fainting does not count as being momentarily scared. The time spent unconscious counts as scared time.

Beth Loves Bollywood said...

1) I have a friend who is an ethnomusicologist and does all her work on/in Indonesia. The only film-related experiences there she has ever mentioned...were Bollywood.
2) I had no idea you had such strong feelings about Disco Dancer! This will come in handy should I ever need to coerce you.
3) WOW.

Todd said...

Don't get me wrong. I love Disco Dancer as much as the next guy with highly suspect tastes. It's just that it's not the kind of movie you want sneaking up on you like that.

Todd said...

PS: I knew that Bollywood movies were popular in Indonesia, but this is the first Indonesian film that I've seen that shows any noticeable Bollywood influence.

mj indonesia said...

Go Indonesia

mj indonesia said...

Go Indonesia

Anonymous said...

I want to see that movie but I can't find it in internet :(