Indonesian Star Rano Karno Is One for the Books
Report Syviana Hamdani
Women worshipped him, young men aspired to be like him and children adored him. Rano Karno shot to fame as an actor in the 1970s and his career flourished to the ’90s, but his heyday as a public figure is far from over. While he is no longer as active on screen, Rano is still very much in the public eye as an elected government official and now as a published author.
Rano, who turned 50 on Friday, still looks like a matinee idol — dark and handsome, albeit a bit thicker in the middle, sporting his iconic mustache.
But away from his glitzy public persona there is another story, a rags-to-riches tale about how books made a major difference in his life.
“Books freed my mind from our hard living conditions,” Rano said of his family’s poverty. “They broadened my thinking and ignited my imagination. They saved my life.”
The public still fondly knows Rano as Doel, the character he played on the popular television series that he produced, “Si Doel Anak Sekolahan” (“Well-Educated Doel”), which aired on RCTI from 1993 to 1998.
When he recently attended the soft launch for “Anak Indonesia Suka Baca” (“Indonesian Children Love to Read”), a program organized by the Indonesian Publishers Association (IKAPI) that encourages children to read, fans of all ages lined up for autographs and pictures.
The actor, who is the deputy district head of Tangerang, is a big literacy advocate.
He promoted literacy while serving as a Unicef goodwill ambassador for education from 2002-07 and is still passionate about the cause.
The IKAPI event also marked Rano’s venture into publishing. He launched his first book, “The Last Barongsay,” which portrays the life of the Cina Benteng (Chinese of the Fort) community in Tangerang.
“If we don’t pay attention to these cultures, then who will?” Rano said about the community, which was threatened with eviction by the city administration in April.
While the eviction did not take place, the incident brought to light the situation of a community losing its traditions over time.
Rano’s acting career has been a storied one.
And according to him, books have played a major role in it, one way or another.
Over the last four decades, he has received many accolades as an actor.
His awards include Best Child Actor at the 1974 Indonesian Film Festival, for the movie “Rio Anakku” (“Rio My Son”); Best Child Actor at the 1974 Asia Pacific Film Festival, for the movie “Dimana Kau Ibu?” (“Where Are You Mother?”); Best Actor at the 1980 Indonesian Film Festival, for the movie “Taksi” (“Taxi”); and Best Actor and Best Director for the television series “Si Doel Anak Sekolahan,” in 1995.
Today, Rano juggles the responsibilities of managing his production studio, Karno Film, government duties and a social foundation.
“I wouldn’t say that I am a successful person,” he said. “But I always try to be useful in my life.”
Rano’s life has not always been this good. Born and raised in Jakarta’s Pasar Senen, in Kemayoran, his family lived in poverty when he was growing up.
“Do you know the dangdut song ‘Sepiring Berlima’ [‘Five People Eating From One Plate’]?” he asked. “Our family did that.”
Rano’s father, Soekarno M Noor, was a famous actor in the ’60s and ’70s, a time when artists were not well-compensated.
His father struggled to make ends meet. “It was almost impossible for him to put his children through school,” Rano said.
Luckily for Rano, the school he attended waived half his school fees so he was able to continue his studies.
To escape his harsh reality, he would visit the Balai Pustaka library near his house and stay there until closing time reading books.
Among his childhood favorites were the classics “Hulubalang Raja” (“The King’s Commander”) by Nur Sutan Iskandar, “Salah Asuhan” (“Wrong Upbringing”) by Abdul Moeis and the traditional Indonesian tale “Malin Kundang,” which actually helped him start his acting career.
“I was only 10 years old then,” he said. “I was auditioning for a role in the movie ‘Malin Kundang’ with designer Itang Yunasz, who is as old as I am.
As I watched a scene being played, I blurted out, ‘That’s not how the story goes.’ The director got interested and asked for my version. He was very impressed because I really knew the story by heart and I got the part.”
It took Rano a while to convince his father, however. “He told me that actors can hardly feed themselves and their families,” he said. “I really wanted to prove him wrong.”
His big break was the classic “Si Doel Anak Betawi” (“Doel the Betawi Boy”) by Aman Datuk Madjoindo, a book that was made into a film in 1972. Like “Malin Kundang,” Rano knew the story by heart and was cast in the movie.
The film was a hit and made Rano a household name.
As a teenager, Rano starred in his share of romantic films.
The film “Gita Cinta Dari SMA” (“Love Song From High School”), in which he co-starred with actress Yessy Gusman, was a box-office hit in 1979.
Many people even speculated that there was something going on between the two actors because of their on-screen chemistry.
“Unfortunately, we were not destined to be husband and wife,” Rano said with a laugh.
Instead, he married his long-time sweetheart, Dewi Indriati, with whom he has two children, Raka Widyarma and Deanti Rakasiwi.
In 1990, the actor decided to rewrite the novel “Si Doel Anak Betawi.” He gave it a more contemporary spin and it was turned into the TV series “Si Doel Anak Sekolahan.”
“It got turned down by many TV stations,” he said. “They thought the story was kampungan [provincial] and outdated.”
Rano did not give up. When the series was finally aired by RCTI in 1993, it quickly became a nationwide hit.
The plot revolved around Doel, a young man of Betawi origin who struggled to achieve his dreams.
Its unpretentiousness and everyday setting endeared it to many.
It achieved high ratings during prime time, ran for six seasons and was re-aired by a number of other TV stations.
“Luck and talent have very little to do with it,” Rano said of his success, adding that the key was iqra , which is Arabic for reading.
“You can read anything — books, newspapers and the Internet — as long as it’s good and enriches your mind.”
Rano laments what he sees as a drop in the number of authors in the country.
“When they become profit-oriented, they’re no longer true to themselves and lose their originality,” he said.
The actor turned politician, and now author, is showing no signs of resting.
“I want to write more books about legendary Indonesian artists,” he said. “There are a lot of important people that our kids don’t know anymore.”
He is also planning to establish a film museum at his studio in Cibubur, East Jakarta. “Maybe I’ll also do a wax museum, like Madame Tussauds,” he said.
As for words of wisdom to inspire those who want to follow in his footsteps, Rano has this to say: “Don’t be afraid to dream. Then pursue each of your dreams until you’re satisfied.”