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Raditya Dika: Close to The Heart

Award-winning comedic creative Raditya Dika shares with Colours his artistic drive and process, as well as his commitment to continuous learning.

Interview by Arya Arditya

Known for his comedy, Raditya Dika has donned many faces for his audience: first as a blogger and writer, and then as a stand-up comedian; and now he is also known as an actor, director and producer.

“I am a storyteller,” Raditya says when asked to describe himself. “I tell my stories in various mediums like blogs, books, stand-up comedy and film.”

Radit, as he is known to his fans, is the author of six books, writer and actor in four motion pictures, and also a producer and director. According to the 31-year-old, all of his works, be they books, stand-up comedy or films, begin in a similar way. “They all come from things troubling me, things I feel in my heart. This is why I think my stories resonate well with my audience; these stories are relatable, because one way or another people have experienced them also.”

Being the eldest of five, two of whom are twin sisters, may be one of the reasons Radit was always the class clown. When he was a fourth grader, he came across comedy novels that intrigued his young mind. He studied the novels for comedic lines and analysed the characters, the plot and the writing style.

As he also read joke books, it wasn’t long before young Radit started writing down his own in a special notebook and sharing them with his classmates.

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He finished high school in Jakarta and then studied finance at the University of Adelaide for three years before returning home and switching his major to politics at the University of Indonesia.
Many of his fans were introduced to him through his first book, Kambing Jantan, in 2005, which tells about his school and college years, although he had been making a name for himself in the Indonesian blogosphere in the early 2000s.

The book’s publication was a new direction for Radit; he has been a prolific author since with titles including Cinta Brontosaurus, Radikus Makankakus: Bukan Binatang Biasa, Babi Ngesot, Marmut Merah Jambu and Manusia Setengah Salmon.

His first venture into film making was when Kambing Jantan was made into a feature film. The writer played himself as the main character in the 2009 movie. His subsequent books were also picked up for cinematic adaptation and he continued as the lead actor in them.

Despite, or probably because of, his unfortunate love life, Radit has amassed millions of fans by making films based on his disastrous dating stories. His latest film, in which he stars, writes and directs, Koala Kumal (Dingy Koala), tells about Radit being left by his fiancée just before their planned wedding. The film’s release coincided with with the Idul Fitri holiday in July.

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While his works are all inspired by things that make him feel restless and troubled, Radit has employed a similar process when writing them.

“I use systematised structure, goals and techniques of writing,” Radit says, mentioning the well-known writing theories of the three-act and eight-sequence structure. “I start my stories with a premise; I start the essence of the story with one or two sentences. I then develop it into a story with three acts; each act contains sequences and each sequence contains bits,” he says, referring to the formula of dividing stories into three sections: set-up, conflict, and resolution.

Utilising this system, Radit can complete a screenplay in three months in planned writing sessions. “I don’t believe in waiting for inspiration from the sky or waiting for a certain mood to write,” he emphasises.

“Writing is not magical. We can create and break down stories like an engineer creates or breaks down a robot,” says Radit, who loves spending leisure time with his pet cats.

Radit has also learned and sharpened his skills in filmmaking since writing, directing and starring in the web series Malam Minggu Miko in 2012, which was later picked up for a TV series and then a feature film.

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“I practically learned filmmaking by necessity, because no one was interested in Malam Minggu Miko initially, so I had to do it myself,” he explains. As a budding filmmaker, Radit is currently learning by analysing the work of renowned filmmakers David Fincher and Jason Reitman.

“From Fincher, I am learning about the way he shoots; while from Reitman, I’m learning his indie way of moviemaking and working with a limited budget,” Radit shares.

While looking up to stellar writers such as Neil Gaiman, Hilman Hariwijaya and Dewi Lestari for his literary works, for his comedic approach Radit looks up to Louis CK and Jerry Seinfeld.

“CK is very honest with his stand-up; he brings up things close to his heart. Seinfeld’s comedy is about observation and clean content. CK’s comedy is very raw, while Seinfeld’s is refined.

“I’m looking for a nice place between the two, between the raw and the refined. I’m still looking.”