06 March, 2009

Hope in a Soap: ABS-CBN’s “May Bukas Pa”

During my brief stint at ABS-CBN’s Creative Development Group some years ago, I came upon the conclusion that when we have saturated the market with certain types of shows, the opportunity arises for a particular type of program to succeed in terms of viewers and following.

To illustrate this point, allow me to give you a clear idea of primetime network programming during those times. During the first quarter of that year, “Marina” -the first Fantaserye [a term coined by the network which combined the words Fantasy and Series in its Tagalog alliteration] ABS-CBN produced about a mermaid was about to wrap up, then there was Chito Roño’s “Spirits” which delved into the supernatural, and there was Krystala -the plot of which I vaguely remember except for that scene where the super heroine was fighting off a swarm of giant flies and beating them with some huge stick.

As per the rival network, their programming included “Mulawin”, [the plot of which was basically copied off Princess Mononoke] and “Encantadia” -with a production design that was copied off from the template of The Lord of the Rings movies. At the time, the usual melodramatic soaps were replaced by the Korean or Taiwanese imports that were dubbed in Filipino. And during that time, if a local show did not have magic, it did not merit much in terms of ratings.

So, there I was, thinking that there could be an opportunity amidst all these Fantaseryes and Telefantasyas. I thought that in the six months that have seen primetime programming looking like the Sci-Fi Network roster, the time was ripe for good old-fashioned melodrama. I did not really care if it was a “rags to riches” drama or whatnot, I just wanted to brainstorm a good drama but unfortunately I got assigned to develop something by the way of Desperate Housewives and was told to “make it Pinoy.” It did not go so well, I guess since a few weeks later I found myself developing production design for the rival network’s new Telefantasya entitled SUGO.

A few weeks ago, I saw the promo trailer for ABS-CBN’s new primetime soap “May Bukas Pa” [roughly translated as “There’s Still Tomorrow”]; they took the title from an old Filipino song which is also the soap’s namesake and theme. After reading through some forums, I learned that they had adapted it from a 1955 Spanish film called “Marcelino, Pan y Vino” [in some territories entitled The Miracle of Marcelino or Marcelino, Bread and Wine] directed by Ladislao Vajda, taken from the novel of the same title by Jose Maria Sanchez Silva. I wasn’t that surprised since the trend these days is to make local versions of certain foreign series that have been popular when they aired locally: the first few being “My Girl” from Korea and Betty La Fea [Ugly Betty]. Thankfully, the Filipino version seems a little lighter than the Spanish original…

“May Bukas Pa” is the story of an orphan named Santino who was raised by Roman Catholic priests after they found him upon the doorsteps of their church/monastery when he was a baby with only half of a pair of diamond earrings as a clue to his identity. Raised with as much love and care the priests can provide, Santino grows into a playful and rowdy little boy who gets into a lot of trouble and gets away with it.

Santino chances upon a statue of Jesus Christ inside a graveyard and begins conversing with it. The little child calls him “Bro” [this really takes me back; I used to know someone nicknamed Bro who calls Jesus Christ “Kuya” -a Filipino titular for older brother], and one day “Bro” answers back and performs a series of miracles through the child. It began when a terminally ill child is cured of cancer, and later when one of the priests falls off the rafters of the church, Santino revives him through the power given to him by “Bro”.

Having seen episodes of the series at least three times a week, I happen to like the simplicity of it. One can’t help but love Zaijan Jaramilla as Santino. They could not have picked a better Santino, the child actor’s performance displays his natural brilliance -rarely seen with this sea of child talents that are puppets to some failed stage mother‘s dream. By the way of child actors, the kid has a bright future ahead of him [here’s hoping the ways of Filipino showbiz doesn’t mess him up]. Santino struggles against his longing for a mother’s love, the burden of using his miraculous gift to benefit those that require healing, and the local town mayor’s personal unexplained vendetta to make life difficult for him and the priests in the monastery. I remember one of the priests asking if a child’s heart can take so much this early on in his life, and they find their answer in the way Santino touches the lives of those he comes in contact with.

Another network once did this series called “Mga Mata ni Anghelita” which in one word is horrendous. It started out the way of many religious dramas go and just turned into a farce after the miracles bordered on the fantastical. A part of me is wishing that “May Bukas Pa” does not turn into that. Although I have much to say about the sequences when Jesus Christ’s apparition interacts with Santino, the special effects of which are a bit amateurish and the texture of his draped costume so unfriendly to the camera, they are forgivable. My heart will definitely break if Santino goes the way of Marcelino in the movie and dies in the end. Knowing how the Filipino psyche works when it comes to endings, with the preservation of the status quo ought to be respected and the lead must never die, hopefully the soap’s writers won’t do that.

At a time like this, I believe that Filipinos need a child’s unbound heart and faith that someone up there has got our backs and that the promise of tomorrow is not without its required dose of faith and hope.

Thus spake the Barefoot Baklesa

No comments: