Buya Hamka Vol. 1: A Biopic that Falls Short in Exploring the Complexity of a Historical Figure

Indonesia has witnessed numerous biopics in recent years, attempting to bring to life the stories of notable figures from the nation’s history. While some of these films have garnered critical acclaim and public recognition, few have managed to strike a delicate balance between satisfying audiences and offering a comprehensive exploration of their subjects. Fajar Bustomi, known for directing the successful Dilan trilogy, presents Buya Hamka Vol. 1, the first installment in a planned trilogy dedicated to the life of Abdul Malik Karim Amrullah, popularly known as Hamka. While the film showcases commendable performances and lavish production values, it ultimately falls short in its narrative execution and fails to delve into the complexity of its protagonist.

Falcon Pictures, the studio behind Buya Hamka Vol. 1, leaves no stone unturned when it comes to assembling an impressive cast. Vino G. Bastian, a Citra Award winner, takes on the titular role of Hamka, supported by talented actors such as Laudya Cynthia Bella and Donny Damara, both recognized by the Citra Awards. The ensemble also includes Desy Ratnasari, Ferry Salim, Verdi Solaiman, and Anjasmara. With its theatrical release on April 19, the film promises to captivate audiences with its stellar acting performances.

The story of Buya Hamka Vol. 1 begins in 1964 with an elderly Hamka, played by Vino G. Bastian under convincing prosthetic makeup, placed under house arrest in Sukabumi, West Java. The narrative then shifts back to 1933 when Hamka and his family reside in Makassar, South Sulawesi. As an active member of Muhammadiyah, Hamka seeks to contribute more to the fight against Dutch colonial rule. He takes up a job at the Medan-based magazine Pedoman Masyarakat in 1936 and starts writing novels, including his renowned works, Di Bawah Lindungan Ka’bah and Tenggelamnya Kapal Van der Wijck, published in 1938.

The film highlights Hamka’s struggle as his integrity as a Muslim and nationalist is tested during the Japanese occupation. The Japanese offer him a deal: support their rule, and they will not interfere with Islamic activities. However, public opinion turns against Hamka as the Japanese prepare to leave Indonesia after their surrender to the Allied forces. Following Indonesia’s independence declaration, Hamka and his family experience poverty and live off the grid. The potential threat of a second Dutch invasion forces Hamka to reconsider his involvement in the fight for independence, despite his tarnished reputation.

Buya Hamka Vol. 1 impresses with its exceptional production values, extensive location shoots, and meticulous historical reconstructions of both urban and rural life. The regal score composed by Purwacaraka further elevates the film’s grandeur, positioning the veteran composer as a strong contender for the upcoming Citra Awards. However, despite these technical accomplishments, the narrative fails to deliver a coherent and thoughtful examination of Hamka’s life.

The film rushes through crucial moments that shape Hamka’s journey, such as the writing of his iconic novels and the tragic loss of his son. These pivotal events, which could have offered profound insights into Hamka’s character, are merely skimmed over, leaving the audience craving a more in-depth exploration.