The Butcher | “Kailan Naging Ama ang Isang Babae?” —this Magpakailanman episode is a pain to watch.

PHOTOS: screengrab from GMA-7

PHOTOS: screengrab from GMA-7

Magpakailanman is a weekly drama anthology that was put up by GMA in late 2002 in answer to ABS-CBN’s highly-successful Maalaala Mo Kaya.

Like Maalaala, and previously, Lovingly Yours, Helen and Eddie Ilarde’s Kahapon Lamang, Magpakailanman also dramatized the lives of anonymous letter-senders during the early years. But there came a time when both Maalaala and Magpakailanman started featuring the life stories of celebrities.

Sometime in 2004, Magpakailanman dramatized the life story of Vicki Belo and the celebrity doctor naturally chose her then BFF Rosanna Roces to portray her in the drama show. (Believe me, poor Dr. Belo hardly recognized her own life story with all the alterations done to it.) 

To counter the rival’s move, Maalaala bought the rights to Ai-ai de las Alas’ story and made Maricel Soriano play the then top comedienne. 

Rosanna and Ai-ai were at the height of their feud that time and, boy, that was one colorful showbiz battle royale.

Today, both Magpakailanman and Maalaala are back to featuring the lives of non-celebrities. The difference is that they now reveal the identities of these people – complete with on-cam interviews.

In celebration of Father’s Day and the LGBTQ pride month, Magpakailanman recently aired a two-part episode called “Kailan Naging Ama ang Isang Babae?” This is the story of one of the first Filipinos to undergo a sex re-assignment surgery.

I only caught the second part, but I do understand that Part 1 showed the earlier life of Roland Aggabao (played byJuancho Trivino), who joined the US Army in the 1960s and even fought in the Vietnam War. He later married a Pinay who gave him a daughter.

Part 2 opens in America - with an older Roland (now portrayed by Allen Dizon) revealing to his wife (played by Jenny Miller) that he had always been gay. Feeling betrayed, the wife disappears from his life along with their young daughter. From here, he gets into a short affair with another US-based Filipina (played by April Gustilo) that produces a son he never sees.

In time, he meets and falls in love with an American named Jerry (Clint Bondad). They are very happy together and faithful to one another.

Somewhere in the second episode, he decides to become female and begins to carry the name Roxanne D’Salles. 

Although he is now female, he, rather, she still feels something lacking in her life. Although she is now happily married to Jerry, she still longs for her two kids.

“Kailan Naging Ama ang Isang Babae?” is billed as an epic story. But unlike those long and sweeping Merchant Ivory productions that you relish, this Magpakailanman feature is tedious and painful to watch.

Of course, I understand that the life story of Roland/Roxanne is long, complicated and circuitous. For instance, they even bother to shoot that part that shows him later meeting his biological father here in the Philippines. 

While I admire the creators of this two-part episode for trying to be faithful to the material, maybe it could have been structured in a more digestible way for the sake of the viewers.

Maybe what made it even more unbearable to watch is the physical transformation of Allen Dizon to that of a woman. It is unpalatable. 

Although he may not necessarily make it to the list of the Handsomest Filipino Actors, Allen is undeniably good-looking – as a man, that is. But as a woman? He looks repulsive.

The makeup department probably should have done more to make him look better – to at least make him appear like a reasonably attractive woman. When Clint Bondad tells her in one of their dates that she “looks absolutely beautiful tonight,” I wanted to vomit all my entrails. 

Clint must really be one hell of a fine actor for having been able to say that line with a straight face. Or maybe he just imagined Allen to be ex-flame Catriona Gray

There was another scene where Clint tells Allen as Roxanne: “Look at you, you look absolutely stunning.” I looked at Allen up close and squirmed.  His eyebrow lines are penciled way above his real eyebrows, which actually stick out. And his face – it is powdered in a shade so white, it could make all the kabukis in Japan go on strike.

At that point, I grabbed my remote control and was this close to throwing it at my flat screen TV. And then I remembered that I had just paid for it.

Could it have been better if the program just tapped Paolo Ballesteros to play Roland/Roxanne? Paolo is probably too young for the role.

Or perhaps the production people relied on the fact that Allen, being an Urian-winning actor, could pull that role off. There is no doubt that Allen is now a seasoned performer, but it didn’t seem like he was comfortable being in drag.

In most of his scenes where he gets to wear women’s clothes and made up to look like a woman, you can see that he is hunched.  The discomfort is all over his face and body movements. Most likely he knew he looked grotesque, but couldn’t complain to the makeup department. If only there was some effort to make him more attractive, his performance for sure would have been outstanding. 

To make matters worse for Allen, his partner Clint doesn’t age a bit until the end of the story. And there he is looking like Dorothy Zbornak in Golden Girls by the time the episode ends.

It is not only Allen’s makeup that is problematic. The production design? Hmm. It’s difficult to judge that because they play it safe by staying mostly indoors and what we see are living rooms that are made to look like the interiors of American homes. At least they succeeded here. Congratulations!

 

However, there is an exterior shot that tries to establish that the scene is in Chicago in 1973. Sorry, but I don’t think downtown Chicago looked anything like that in the 1970s. 

And then there are the clothes that don’t match with the era being depicted in the story, The same thing goes for the costume jewelry that adorns Allen as Roxanne. Couldn’t they have done a little more research on that?

The laziness continues with the handling of the grown-up children of Allen toward the end of the episode. The two kids – half siblings – were born and raised separately by their respective mothers in America. But the way their Tagalog lines are delivered, you’d suspect they descended from Francisco Balagtas. 

Of course, there are US-bred Pinoys who speak fluent Tagalog and we should give their Filipino parents a lot of credit for that. But somehow there will always be something distinctly American with the way they talk even if they speak in the Filipino language. 

Just check out the award-winning actress Mona Lisa. She relocated to Manila from San Francisco as a teenage girl before the Pacific War. And yet, you still discern a twang in her language decades and decades later – up to the time she was already doing movies for Lino Brocka.

Maybe GMA dramas should stop doing stories set overseas because they never seem to get the right people to play foreigners. In Tadhana, one time, Polo Ravales was made to portray an abusive American husband. Of German extraction, he still didn’t look Caucasian enough for the part. And then, he talked and spoke in English like a call center agent on his Day 1 of training. 

What were the Tadhana production people thinking? That the American occupation of the Philippines never happened? That the Thomasites never reached Philippine shores? Or that the Filipino viewers have never seen American movies before?

I don’t know if the GMA people are just plain careless or they simply don’t care. That Magpakailanman material had a lot of promise. But they wasted it because they were careless in a lot of production areas.

Just the other week, netizens took note of a stabbing scene in the recently-concluded Kara Mia. The lead character played by Barbie Forteza was stabbed in the stomach, but blood oozed out of her nose instead of her mouth, so they pointed out. My medical knowledge is nil so I cannot give an opinion. But the netizens have spoken. 

One call from a doctor could have provided them the information they needed to stage that scene the proper way. But they didn’t. Again, they were being careless. 

When will they ever learn to be more careful? Remember the one time they were extremely careless. That resulted in very dire consequences. 

 

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