It was the ultimate in movie type-casting when Johny Indo starred as a gangster who carried out armed robberies, broke out of jail and caroused with bar girls, for Indo was portraying his own violent life.
Indo, 38, was allowed to interrupt a 14-year sentence for armed robbery to make the film. He is now back in prison.
The big-screen version of Johny Indo's life tells the story of his eight armed robberies and his escape from an island prison in a mass breakout that provoked the country's biggest manhunt.
The movie, the first of its kind, has aroused both sympathy and criticism. Called simply "Johny Indo," the film depicts the convict's dalliances with bar girls and his cruelty to his wife, his violent robberies and his recapture after 13 days on the run through the jungle.
"The idea of making the film was not to create controversy, but to tell the audience the true story of a criminal and his repentance for his wrongdoings," said the film's producer, Gunawan Prihatna.
With three accomplices armed with a revolver or a submachine gun, Indo stole 40 pounds of gold bars by threatening to kill jewelers in crowded areas in Jakarta.
The threats were never carried out, but Indo was feared as the leader of the gang and mastermind of its robberies. He opened fire at the police when chased, but always missed.
In the film, a moral emerges in the final reel when Indo leads 33 other convicts in an escape from a maximum-security prison on a remote island off Java's southern coast.
The film shows how the solidarity and exhilaration of the convicts break down under hunger, despair and suspicion when they are hunted in tropical jungles and marshes.
Most of them, including Indo, eventually surrender, but 11 die of sickness or are killed by pursuing police.
"It is during the chase that I really realized how precious a free man's life is," Indo soberly tells moviegoers in a preview. "Crime doesn't pay, and a jailbreak doesn't help either."
Several actors, actresses and politicians criticized Prihatna for using Indo, calling it a publicity stunt. Others objected to the idea because they said it created an impression of government leniency toward dangerous criminals.
But a Justice Ministry spokesman said it was government policy to give inmates every opportunity to gain self-respect and confidence. "Prisoners should not be unacceptable to society after they are released from jail, especially when they prove that they behave well," said Rahardjo, the spokesman (who uses a single name). "They have the right to turn over a new leaf."
Some film-goers said they were deeply moved to see how Indo's forsaken but faithful wife, Stella, and their four daughters maintained a grip on life despite his derision and abuse. She now sells cakes in Jakarta to support the family.
Indo is eligible for release in 1992 from Nusakambangan Prison, where he attempted his escape. These days, he stars only in the prison kitchen--as head steward.