If you’ve ever attended a musical on Broadway (or one of its touring shows like Beauty and the Beast), London’s West End or a European opera; if you’ve watched films like Doomsday, 10,000 BC, Hercules or (the recently released) blockbuster Exodus; if you’ve seen British high court barristers donning those very theatrical-looking wigs, then you’ve been privy to some marvelous and original creations made right here – in Bali.
Sari Rambut is the brainchild of Orlando Bassi, a 48 year old, Swiss native (and long-time Bali resident). In the late 1990s he arrived in Indonesia seeking suppliers for his wig-making business. He met a local man, Nengah, who worked at the hotel where he was staying and they became friends.
With the approval of his family, Nengah helped Bassi set up a workshop in his village. Nengah and his friend Wayan were sent to Switzerland to learn the wig-making and knotting trade, then returned and trained villagers in the craft. Despite the utter lack of experience of all the new apprentices, their nimble handiwork and attention to precision – hallmarks of Balinese handicraft making – were good enough to churn out high quality wigs.
Years later, with a booming enterprise and a growing pool of trained staff, Nengah helped Bassi expand his business – into special effects (Tiga-D), makeup bags and accessories (Tas Merah) and period costume-making as well.
The special effects studio is a hodge-podge of body parts strewn all over shelving units. A longtime employee, Nyoman, is hunched over a board, using a precision tool to carve out a realistic-looking skin injury. He’s been at it for nearly a decade, and has been involved in some major film productions around Indonesia and Malaysia.
Despite Sari Rambut’s incredible growth, wigs are still Bassi’s bread and butter; in fact he learned recently that his company is considered the largest wig manufacturer in the world. To maintain the highest standards, it’s no surprise that he sources the most authentic hair to create top quality wigs and beards.
A gang of roving hair dealers travels around villages in Europe and Asia, collecting bushels and boxes of human hair for Bassi. Boxes of hair – raw materials and processed – are piled high in one room, while in another a small group of women fashion freshly boiled rolls of horse hair into barrister wigs – which will be shipped off to high court chambers in the UK, Malaysia and Arabic countries. Hair from other animals – yak, camel for example – are sought out as well.
Bassi is mum on some of his better-known clients, because a middleman is often involved. But his wigs, beards, noses and special effects have been sought out for, and outfitted many actors and performers in some of the biggest-name Broadway musicals (especially touring productions), Balinese theater and dance performances, London’s West End shows, European operas and a large number of Hollywood films – including the recently released blockbuster Exodus.
Three years ago, Bassi set out to fulfill a lifelong ambition by building the first film studio in Bali. He called it Movie Studio Bali. In a cavernous, hangar-sized space with a sound stage, lights, dollies and editing equipment, films, commercials and music videos have been produced. In the works are horror films, English-language childrens’ television series about travel and more. On the drawing board is a post-production facility, complete with state-of-the-art technology, editing and sound rooms, more equipment for rentals, and more.
It’s a surprising find, to be sure, among the rice paddies, temples and gravely roads of central Bali. But the secret’s out and my bets are on Bassi. One day soon, you’ll see his films coming to a theater near you.