Lebahganteng is a national hero. This college student has single-handedly translated and subtitled more than 500 films and television shows, uploading the subs to websites like subscene and allowing untold numbers of Indonesian film lovers to watch foreign movies that would never be released nationwide or make it through the country's censors in-tact.
He's a savior for Indonesians who love non-anglophone movies, or English ones with thick, or weird, accents. Or anyone who wants to waste time at work by watching a foreign TV show on mute with Indonesian subtitles turned on.
But Lebahganteng prefers to stay behind the scenes. He's notoriously private—he would only go by the name "tawon" ("wasp") and gave little information about his personal life. He told me, via Skype, that he's a male university student enrolled in the department of Indonesian Literature and Language at a university in Surabaya.
VICE Indonesia's Abdul Manan Rasudi spoke with Lebahganteng about the perks of being an amateur subtitler, how he makes money, and his relationship with professional subtitler Pein Akatsuki.
VICE: What got into subtitle translations in the first place?
Lebahganteng: At first, I was just looking to have some fun online. I was looking for a new TV series and one of the series that I found did not have subtitles. I had to guess what the characters were talked about. I forgot what show it was—I saw a lot of series back then—but that's when I first became interested in translating subs.
When was that?
It was 2011. Quite a long time, ago. My first sub was uploaded to subscene.
When you first subtitle a movie, do you use translation software?
I write subs directly in notepad. I translated from the srt file, that's how I've done it until today. That's my way. I use software only to add colors to a subtitle.
How many subs have you translated to date?
I don't have the exact number. But I've uploaded over 800 subs. But some of them are just the results of a resynch. So more than 500 is more like it.
What do you mean by resynch?
Sometimes there are three versions of a film: DVDRip, webdl, Blu-ray. For instance, I translate a DVDRip version, and then a week later there's a webdl version, so I need to change my timing into webdl version. The same goes with Blu-ray, I just have to adjust the timing.
Some say that you work in a team, is that true?
No, I work alone. But sometimes there are projects that I do with friends at IDFL forum. I don't have a particular criteria for films that I like to translate. Usually, they are just films that my friends and I consider good, but ones I don't have the time to translate alone. This relationship is a bond between film buffs. None of the translators receive a fee.
How many subs do you finish in a day?
I don't translate subs everyday. I translate subs for fun, it's not a job because I'm focusing on my studies and tutoring.
How many translation requests do you receive per day on your website?
There are usually one or two requests in my inbox per day. But don't get me wrong, not all of them offer compensation. Sometimes the request only says, "Dude, please translate the subs of this film, yadda, yadda." At first I didn't allow requests. But over the years, I have received more and more request emails, and some of them are pretty weird.
They don't just ask me to translate film subs. Sometimes they ask me to translate clips or tutorials. But everything depends on my mood. If I like a request, I'll take it. But I turn down most requests [laughs].
How much do you charge?
Well, it depends. There's no fixed fee. Usually the range is between Rp 100,000 and Rp 200,000 per title. Some take it, some don't. But after a bunch of requests, I'll increase my fee. Sometimes I do that just to discourage stubborn requests. Sometimes I even write my fee as high as Rp 1 million, so I won't get anymore requests. Some will bid lower, some even say they'll give an extra 20,000 in phone credit.
What's your monthly average number?
One to two a month. Usually, I do two, because I'm pretty busy IRL with college and hanging out with friends. Not to mention trips and going to the cinema. [laughs]
Yeah, and don't forget about going out with your girlfriend. Right?
I'm single :(
There's a couple of websites that use the name Lebahganteng. Which one is your official website? Do you mind people using your name?
Lebahganteng.com is the official one. It only has links to subtitles. I let the others be, but they don't ask my permission.
Do you make money off your official website?
You could say that. There are links that produce chingy. But I can't rely on that for a living. In a month, I usually receive Rp 200,000 to Rp 300,000. That's as much as I make, although people say I'm famous, I swear, I can't make a living out of translations. I upload a sub, and then I leave it be.
I receive my monthly income from a link that provides $00.0001 USD per click, and sometimes some extra money from ad banners people put up. Sometimes those banners are from a fashion line, or for phone credits, or poker. The point is, if I'm being honest, I may look like a person who's successful from translating subs, but really I'm just a regular student [laughs]. Fame and money sometimes don't go hand in hand.
What's the story behind the moniker Lebahganteng [handsome bee]?
I get that question a lot. Well, at first, I was just playing around. If I had to be philosophical about it, maybe bee means useful, it's handsome because I'm a guy. [laughs]
Who knows about your real identity?
Only few people. Just my closest buddies. My family doesn't know anything [laughs]. Some campus friends know, my friends in the dorm too. I live in the campus dormitory.
Do you want to be a professional subtitle translator?
If I have the chance to go pro, I'd love to take it. I would love to translate films for the cinema.
Once you graduate and start work, will you still be Lebahganteng?
That really depends on the situation. I want to work remotely, if I get a gig from a pro subber, if I may, I'd like to work from home. I don't want to have to come into office everyday. Whenever the time permits, there will always be Lebahganteng. But I'm not sure if later on I have a family. If I get a full-time job at some corporation, I'll give it a try. It might suit me, who knows :D
Last question: do you know Pein Akatsuki (a famous subber)?
Yes, he's a senior in subbing, he also lives in Surabaya. Now Pein is on hiatus so we go see a movie sometimes. The meeting isn't regular, it's not monthly or anything. We only do it when there's a nobar (nonton bareng = watching a movie in groups/with friends). Last time we met we watched Fantastic Beast and Where to Find Them.
This interview has been translated and edited for content and clarity.