The puppet that won the hearts of Indonesian children text by Suyadi
In April 1981, an Indonesian puppet film called Si Unyil appeared for the first time on television screen. Within a very short time, Unyil, the hero, became a close friend to Indonesian children, appearing regularly on Sunday mornings to entertain millions of viewers.
In fact, Si Unyil is not merely entertainment. The programme, while entertaining, talks about patriotism, nationalism, health, the environment, the armed forces, family planning, art and culture, and all the other things an Indonesian child should know. There is of course, still room for fantasy. Some Unyil stories are intended merely to entertain and amuse children. There are also fairy tales, fables and folk tales.
In creating Si Unyil stories, we keep in mind the same ideas any writer of a children's show uses: Children like action, humour and suspense, although the occasional touching scene is also welcomed. In the case of puppet films, though, more attention is paid to action. Things are meant to be acted, not merely spoken.
The choice of characters is important - some are "good" and some are "bad". A story that has only angelic characters would be very dull. In Si Unyil we include antagonistic types, represented by the short-tempered Pak Raden and the lazy Pak Ogah, to enhance the story and enchant the viewers. In fact, these "unsympathetic" characters are the most popular. This can present a challenge for the puppet designer. While puppets can say and do more than people can without fear of offending, the designer needs to treat each character differently - a school teacher and a villain must look distinct from each other, for example.
Whether characters are good or bad, they all have to possess a certain charm. We have found that the most naturalistic puppets are the fastest forgotten, while the caricatures are long remembered. Keep in mind, though that a highly distorted or nearly abstract figure is only suitable for portraying villains, witches, giants, demons and other frightening creatures.
Indonesia has a long history of puppetry, and most puppets have been presented in a stylized and decorative way. Si Unyil is different. Unyil is designed to communicate with modern Indonesian children, and consequently he must appear more or less modern. The traditional touch is retained in the treatment of stories dealing with everyday life and in the presentation of artistic and cultural events.