follow us on

"May Minamahal" Captured a Rare Time in Pinoy Movies: “Parang Naglalaro Lang Tayo No’n.”

Before Star Cinema became the prolific producer of Filipino films it is today, the company—like many great things—had humble beginnings.  

Kids who grew up in the 90s might remember “Star Cinema” first as an ABS-CBN program that aired full-length Filipino movies—until it became the name of the broadcasting company’s motion picture arm. Charo Santos-Concio, then programming head of Channel 2, became Star Cinema’s managing director, with Simon Ongpin (now deceased) as the general manager of the then fledgling firm. Ma’am Charo and Sir Simon had previously teamed up on a number of movies—one of which was Kisapmata (1982). Simon was producer of this Mike de Leon thriller-masterpiece while Charo was actress and line producer. As one of the first production assistants at Star Cinema, the film arm, I remember M’am Charo telling us (me and my fellow PAs) how thrilled she was to have gotten a house owned by Justice Artemio Panganiban as the main location for Kisapmata. That instead of paying a per-day location fee, she simply rented the house for some months, which proved to be cheaper and more efficient for the production.

Direk Joey Reyes and the author

 

I tell this story to illustrate how Star Cinema was in the early years. The company had very few employees. A new grad had the privilege of being in direct contact with the big bosses, and being mentored by them in the process was a great blessing.

Star Cinema’s first office was in a small room with a few tables: one for Sir Simon, another for the one in charge of distribution, another table for the shipper of the movie reels, and one last table which served as the production assistants’ station. This room was located in between the ABS-CBN mess hall and another office shared by Sky Guide Magazine and the Legal Department. Ma’am Charo’s own HQ was steps away, in the production department of ABS-CBN.

In the middle of 1993, Star Cinema had released two movies: the action picture Adan Ronquillo: Tubong Cavite, Laking Tondo starring Bong Revilla and Sheryl Cruz, and the movie version of the top-rating in-house comedy program Home Along Da Riles which starred Dolphy. In those days, action movies with car chases and vehicles blowing up on screen were popular. So were comedies and tearjerkers. Light, feel-good movies about love were rare.

 

This was the entertainment landscape when Star Cinema began production on what was eventually called May Minamahal, the story of an unico hijo who finds himself having to step up to being the man of the house—or more precisely an all-girl household—following the death of his father. And then he falls in love with a girl—from an all-boys fam—who is street-smart and rough around the edges. Can he bring his family to like this toughie, or does he need to make a choice between romance and keeping his family’s trust? 

If I recall correctly, the movie’s working title was Ikaw Sa Buhay Ko. The thick script was composed of typewritten sheets (not computer-printed). The film was only the second that Star Cinema produced. (Ronquillo was made by Regal Films and released under Star Cinema.) It was kind of a novelty, a gamble even on the company’s part.

The original poster for the 1993 release

 

Aside from being a non-formula, it starred the untested team-up of Aga Muhlach and Aiko Melendez. I remember Sir Simon mentioning that the producers thought of casting Aga, who would play the only son Carlitos, and Aiko, the toughie love interest Monica, after they saw the two in Regal’s Sinungaling Mong Puso directed by Maryo J. delos Reyes.

In the beginning, I was told Star Cinema was a venture between ABS-CBN and Regal Films of Mother Lily Monteverde. In the 90s, Regal was among the Philippines’ busiest studios, releasing one movie every three weeks. Actually, May Minamahal had more than a few of Regal’s personnel and resources. Stars Aga and Aiko were under contract with Mother Lily. The filming unit came from Regal; so did line producer Jo-Ann Bañaga, and Jose Javier Reyes who wrote the screenplay and directed the movie. The team often had production meetings in the famed Regal Valencia Street office where we also converged before proceeding to the day’s location.

The newest, top-of-the-line ARRI 35mm camera was used to film the movie. Every shooting day, the production assistants had to bring cans of film stock. (We were only two PAs: myself and my counterpart at Regal, Jenny Francisco.) I didn’t bring enough during one of our early shooting days. When Direk Joey found out that there was no more film stock, he reprimanded me and walked out of the set. Shooting was halted right before dinner.

But my faux pas turned out to be a blessing. Since the ARRI camera was new, the cameraman had yet to be familiar with its use. All the scenes shot that day turned out to be defocused. Had my blunder not disrupted the shoot, more film footage would have been wasted.

Looking back, I could say now that May Minamahal was a learning experience for many of us on the team. Direk Joey was still new at directing, having made his full feature debut only around 1992. Ate Jo-Ann, an experienced assistant director for local and international productions, was line producing outside of the Regal system for the first time. May Minamahal was the first Star Cinema project for Agot Isidro (I distinctly remember that Eula Valdes was considered for her role.), Nikka Valencia, and Boots Anson-Roa who, along with a very young Claudine Barretto, played Aga’s family members in the film. Tita Boots had just returned to the Philippines after years of living abroad and May Minamahal was her comeback picture.

Aside from running out of Kodak film stock, I don’t recall any other major mishap on the set. Shooting always ended early (no puyatan) and the atmosphere was always lighthearted. Mainly because of Direk Joey. He called the pudgy Dagley, the head of Regal’s shooting unit, “Porkchop.” He also kept teasing me and his assistant director Crisanto Andrew Moreno, a young graduate from La Salle, trying to make a pair out of us. Sometimes Direk also made fun of Ate Jo-Ann’s smoky eye makeup.

Aga and Aiko weren’t so close during the actual shoot, but by the time Aiko celebrated her birthday in December of that year, the two were officially “on.” Their on-cam chemistry was undeniable. But the scenes with the respective families were also magic! Ronaldo Valdez was so natural and effortless as Monica’s father. Little did we know he would score a grand slam as Best Supporting Actor in the Metro Manila Film Festival, Urian, Film Academy of the Philippines and FAMAS for his role.

Just when we thought work was over, the fun got extended because of additional shoots. At the advice of creative consultant Melanie Garduño, new scenes were filmed. These included the lovey-dovey moments between Carlitos and Monica, and Carlitos’ picnic with his family (the one where his sisters memorably point out he is wearing too much cologne).

There was a lot of care put into the production. For instance, shooting at the old house that was the residence of Monica’s family wasn’t easy. It was in a crowded neighborhood in San Juan. The structure had floors that creaked and the place reeked of cat smell. There were times when Direk Joey would ask propsmen to catch and hold the cats, and release them only when he yells “Action!” That’s how cats ended up being seen on screen—like while Monica was talking with her dad and brothers (played by Bimbo Bautista and John Estrada), and when Carlitos was paying Monica a visit.

Personally, I think May Minamahal captured a rare time in mainstream cinema when the process was motivated more by sheer love and passion rather than by box-office outcome. Or for that matter, by a desire to be talked about in social media.

The team was surprised when our bosses decided to field our movie in the 1993 Metro Manila Film Festival.  And we were more surprised when it won several MMFF awards including Best Story, Best Screenplay, and Best Director for Direk Joey; Best Production Design for Benjie de Guzman, Best Supporting Actor for Ronaldo Valdez, and Best Actor for Aga Muhlach.

“Who would have thought?” said Direk Joey looking back. “Parang naglalaro lang tayo no’n…”

 

The poster for the 25th anniversary restored and remastered version

 

The restored version premiered last February18 at the Powerplant Mall. Regular run is from Feb 21 to the 27th.