Where better to watch the new Indonesian film, Obama, Anak Menteng (Obama, the Menteng Kid), than in Menteng itself?
But not in one of those boring modern cinema complexes that you find in shopping malls - and which have about as much character as a Big Mac – but in probably Jakarta’s only historic cinema still standing, the wonderfully nostalgic Bioskop Megaria, originally named Bioscoop Metropool when it was built back in 1932.
The film paints a romantic picture of “Our Barry” as a young kid in 1960s Indonesia, munching on chicken sate rather than K.F. Crap, and just generally coming to terms with life in the capital city (don’t we know about that!).
This was a highly chaotic period in Indonesia’s history – but you’d hardly know it from the film.
Obama’s acceptance in his peer group of school friends ironically comes with him engaging in fisticuffs and defeating the school bully (somewhat politically incorrect and I hope it isn’t one of Obama’s life lessons else the US may be in Afghanistan for a long time yet!)
It’s all pretty much easily-digestible mush and the film steers away from any potentially contentious issues. The big R question (religion) is neatly avoided and the scene of Obama reciting from the Koran didn’t make it into the final cut (“He was just imitating other kids when they were praying," said Mr Dematra. "But we cut it anyway”.)
When things get tricky like this, Indonesian filmmakers do what they always do: they chuck in a transvestite; in this case, a transvestite housemaid named Turdi (unfortunate choice of name, methinks) who, one hopes, didn’t spend too much time in teaching a young Obama about the more sensual aspects of life in Jakarta (nothing like that was implied in the film you understand!).
So does the film provide any insights as to Obama’s religious persuasions? Well, no. And that’s surprising really, as you’d have thought that the researchers would have been able to find out if Obama went, say, to a church on a regular basis in Jakarta, and if so, which one.
But in the US, the obsession with Obama’s religion goes on and a recent poll concludes that about 20 percent of Americans believe Obama to be Muslim!
Now a lot of people on the left suggest this is just the opinion of the rabid right but, actually, this is one case when the right are probably “right” (at least partially).
Because most Mulsims believe Obama is Muslim too. At least Obama definitely was a Muslim at birth considering his father was a Muslim:
So when Obama says he's not Muslim, my umma mentality says I know better. Once you have a Muslim parent, especially a dad, you're in. Whether you like it or not, Muslims all over the world see you as one of them.
But so what? And it’s totally understandable given Obama’s background of living for a lengthy period of time in Jakarta.
Hell, I know quite a few Jakarta expats, who, depending on the circumstances, have been able to convince themselves that they are a Muslim, Christian, Buddhist and atheist – all within the space of just ONE week.
Although probably not a transvestite!!!
Jakarta just does things to you like that. It really does…