Sidharta Tata Interview – Director of ‘Ali Topan’ / Available On Streaming Rental or Purchase


It feels fitting that in this eat-the-rich day and age, a Romeo and Juliet story would be set in an urban space threatened by gentrification. Instead of warring noble families, there are warring conglomerate families, and at the heart of the conflict are two young rebels willing to run away and risk it all in the name of love—and the safety of their punk rock community, of course. It’s a thorny yet charming interpretation of a classic tale, one you’d think would only circulate in small cineaste circles. But the film in question, titled Ali Topan, is actually studio-backed, star-led, and one of the most anticipated local features in Indonesia. 

The young director at its helm is Sidharta Tata, who isn’t just part of the new wave of Indonesian filmmakers reinventing cinema; he’s in many ways leading it. His first feature, an unassuming horror indie, skyrocketed at the Indonesian box office. It was such a hit that he was immediately asked to direct Ali Topan, which is based on one of the most enduring novels in Indoensia. Tata feels the pressure, he says, but he doesn’t let it affect his craft. Below, we speak to Tata about Indonesia’s evolving cinema and his genre-defying film, which made its world premiere at this year’s Busan International Film Festival. 

This interview has been edited for publication.

Projektor: Ali Topan was adapted from a novel from the 70s. What makes it relevant today?

Sidharta Tata: Ali Topan by Teguh Esha was the most popular novel in Indonesia when it came out in 1977. The character influenced a lot of teenagers back in the day, so when [Visinema Pictures founder] Angga Sasongko asked me to direct the adaptation, I felt immensely pressured. I’ve only directed one other film, a horror at that, so for this big IP to be my next feature was a scary thing. But Angga encouraged me to put my own spin on it, so I infused it with music, fashion, and ties to the underground community. I made him into this, like, skinhead punk, like myself. When people ask me, “Who’s Ali Topan now?” I say, “Well, Ali Topan is me.” 

In the book, he mostly stays in one place, but in the movie we have him travel around Indonesia to find his own identity. We added action sequences and chase scenes, but also enhanced the romance and comedic bits. A modern-day Ali Topan film just has to be a mixed-genre movie. But that said, we made sure to retain that punk, rebel spirit of the original Ali Topan

“When people ask me, ‘Who’s Ali Topan now?’ I say, ‘Well, Ali Topan is me.'”

The music sounds so fresh and new. Since you’re a musician yourself, did you personally pick these songs? 

Yes, I did. Every single song in the movie is from an Indonesian band. I made a Spotify playlist for Ali Topan even before I got the script [laughs]. After reading the script, I knew where to insert the songs that I liked and immediately asked the producers to buy the rights to use those songs. Once that was good, I handed the playlist to my actors and asked them to listen to it. I love John Carney’s [musical] movies, so that inspired me a lot. 

What’s the most memorable part of shooting Ali Topan?

Ali Topan is a road trip movie, which is fun, but it was tricky to shoot in four cities with just 19 production days. Again, this is only my second feature, so to go across the country, across Jakarta, Semarang, Kendal, and Yogyakarta, with an entire team and tell them what to do was very new and scary for me. Not to mention, a lot of those scenes are action scenes. Lutesha, who plays Anna Karenina, was running and kicking in Doc Martens, which couldn’t have been comfortable. She said she was fine, but I still felt so bad for her. Generally, all the fighting sequences made me nervous because we didn’t have a lot of time to practice during pre-production. But I feel very lucky at the end of the day, because my cast and the acting director worked so hard during the shoot, so it didn’t really take too much time. 

The leads have a very nice and easy chemistry. Did you participate in casting Ali and Anna?

They were already considering Jefri Nichol before I came into the picture, but before they cast him, they asked me if I had a different actor in mind for the role of Ali. I gave it some thought, but I honestly couldn’t come up with anyone more perfect than Nichol. 

Lutesha’s journey was not as seamless because she didn’t have as many followers on Instagram, and you know, that sort of stuff matters in the industry over in Indonesia. I really wanted to cast her because we have similar backgrounds, coming from the indie scene, but I wasn’t sure if the studio would be on board. But by sheer coincidence, Angga called me up to say they were considering her. It felt like fate. She and Nichol together were like magic on set, the chemistry was instant. 

I was speaking earlier to director Anggi Noen, and he cited you as one of the most exciting filmmakers working in Indonesia right now. I know Mr. Sasongko also said you had a “unique energy,” the way you’re able to blend experimental and mainstream tastes.How does it feel to accomplish that much this early in your career?

I honestly have no clue [laughs]. I don’t know, I don’t see it that way. My job, my hobby, is filmmaking, so I just try to make it as perfect and as fun and as honest as I can. That’s what I’ve always set out to do when I first started. 

I watched a lot of movies as a child but they were mostly from the West, and I never thought we could make movies like that in Indonesia. Most of the local films were religious dramas, which is okay, but I never really found interest in any of that. But now thanks to filmmakers like Joko Anwar, Anggi Noen, and Mouly Surya, whose 2008 film Fiction really blew my mind, the path has been paved. Now, there’s like an explosion of different movies: big-budget action, experimental, historical, arthouse. This generation is more fearless now, which is inspiring. Thriller, action, black comedy, horror, I’m happy I get to play with all these different genres.

Login to add your review.

Watching Options

Couldn't fetch watching options.

More From Mood

Oops, something went wrong.


  • Genre