Lino Brocka’s 1980 film, Bona, is one of Philippine Cinema’s classic gems. The Filipino film made it to the 1981 Cannes Film Festival’s Director’s Fortnight category.
Written by Cenen Ramones, Bona is likewise included in The Museum of Tolerance (Los Angeles) “100 Best Films of the World.”
Superstar Nora Aunor’s portrayal of the film’s pitiful protagonist— an obsessive fan-girl of a wannabe starlet—also earned for her the Best Actress award during the 1981 Gawad Urian of the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino.
As the highly-esteemed Bona is now an iconic work in Philippine cinema, PETA (Philippine Educational Theatre Association) braves adapting the Brocka original to a stage play as part of its 45th anniversary.
PETA admittedly faces several challenges in the mounting of this production.
For one, the stage is a different medium altogether, with different set of strengths and weaknesses. A second challenge is adapting the 1980 setting of the film to the present, which will necessitate changing some of the film's details.
PETA has apparently surpassed these challenges, because now it proudly announces its staging of Bona from August 24 to September 23, 2012 at the PETA Theater Center.
EUGENE DOMINGO. During the press conference for the play, award-winning comedienne Eugene Domingo, who plays Bona, is asked whether she aims to match Superstar Nora Aunor’s portrayal of Bona.
The versatile Eugene, who started in theater and whose own body of work spans performances in drama, tragedy, satire, classic and modern stories, and comedy, answers:
“Of course, of course, lahat maku-compare—ang execution, ang pagganap ko. E, given na yun na maku-compare.
"But consciously, we are trying to show you something different, and I hope maa-appreciate ninyo dahil lahat tayo, makaka-relate.”
Bona director Soxie Topacio and playwright Layeta Bucoy are asked: Will the stage adaptation retain the poignant scenes of Bona? What about its violent, stunning ending? How far off will the characters be from their contemporary versions?
Layeta says Bona is still the story “of a worshipper whose kind of worship for her chosen god sustains and consumes her at the same time.”
In her playwright’s note, Layeta explains that the character’s essence will not only center on the things Bona “gives to and gives up for her chosen god,” but will go deep into the “web of factors which renders Bona an easy prey to predators.”
She adds, “We wanted the character to become three-dimensional. Ine-explore talaga yung gilid-giliran ng kanyang pagkatao, yung pinanggalingan niya, ano yung nakaraan niya, bakit siya napunta sa estadong ganun, ano yung nagpuwersa sa kanya upang mag-decide siya na tulungan itong si Gino?”
Brocka's Bona is, in obvious ways, not going to be like PETA's Bona.
Brocka’s film made Bona a college student who was dependent on her parents’s finances. This detail gave Bona the background of someone who could live a reasonably steady existence, which she, however, turned her back on in order to devote her life to Gardo (Phillip Salvador).
A few details had to be fine-tuned, Layeta says, to make Bona relevant to the times.
“Paano kaya kung si Bona, nagkataon na hindi siya mahirap, hindi siya nakadepende sa kung sino?" Layeta posits.
“Kumbaga, kaya niyang tumayo sa sarili niyang paa, at baligtarin natin, na siya talaga yung nagbibigay ng lahat-lahat, o maaaring marami siyang ibigay dito sa artista?”
The stage play also questions the notion that being a devoted fanatic is solely for the poor.
Layeta retorts, “Kapag ikaw ay mahirap, loka-lokahan ka na?”
Bona’s contemporary character shows that is not the case.
Layeta expounds, "Maaaring yung mentalidad ng pagiging fan, hindi siya dinidiktahan kung ano yung estadong pang-ekonomiya sa buhay, kung hindi merong mga salik na umiikot o nag-iimpluwensiya sa isang tao.
“Mga factors na nagtutulak sa atin upang mapunta tayo sa isang katayuan o sa isang estado.”
RETAINED SCENES. Director Soxie says that the play does not completely deviate from the Brocka original. In fact, it retains the familiar, most compelling scenes in the film.
Just as the film version begins with the chaotic feast of the Black Nazarene, a show of utter display of devotion to faith, so will the play open with this scene.
“We chose iconic scenes na makikita mo doon sa pelikula pati dito sa dula, like yung pagpapaligo niya," says Direk Soxie.
"But then, nilawakan namin, 'no? Hindi lang yung magulang niya yung kaaway niya, dito kapatid niya, kaibigan niya.”
He adds that a character played by Nanding Josef, an admirer of Bona, will also be included in the play.
“Ginawa naming almost of the same age sila, [pero] katulad din ni Nanding, he is offering a different kind of life for Bona, a more secure life, 'no?
“Na, of course, dinedma pa rin ni Bona kasi andun pa rin siya sa kanyang idol.”
And what about the ending where Bona pours a boiling cauldron of water on Gardo, upon discovering that he is leaving her behind after she had given up everything for him?
Layeta explains that such a violent denouement will still be a part of the play.
Although the playwright adds, “It’s not really the physical or visual violence that you’ve been used to. It’s a different kind of violence.
“It’s the violence that … it’s been sitting through our times. We are not so aware of it or we are not talking about it. But yes, there’s a twist at the end of Bona.
"While the play version will push the buhusan of the boiling water… the shock value will not only rely on violence. There’s another shock value that is waiting for us after the buhusan of the boiling water.”
GINO’S CHARACTER. Gino’s character, a star-search reality show contestant, is a defining figure in today’s entertainment milieu.
The press asks: does this detail mean to criticize the current age of stars who are brought to fame by such reality TV competitions?
Direk Soxie does not deny this observation.
“Medyo, madami sila kasi. And I think, ganun din yung mga ginagawa ng mga station. Ang pino-project lang, yung ganda nila.”
Direk Soxie frankly talks about the kind of predicament he and his fellow filmmakers are confronted with.
“Parang pinag-workshop mo ng dalawang araw, tapos ginawan mo ng eksena, na alam mo namang kinyur nang kinyur [cure] yung shot dahil dinirek daw ni Gina Alajar o ni Soxy Topacio, na alam mong nung dini-direk, ‘Punyeta itong artistang ito! Bakit nominated [pa]?’
“Pero dahil ‘big stars’ ng ganito, sige gawin na lang, or i-cure nang i-cure."
The quality of acting is comprised, he rues, because at the end of the day, fans favor these talents for their good looks.
“So, it’s more of the physical yung nakikita mo. The talent, kahit bali-bali na yung paa, puwede na yan basta guwapo. And ang dami-dami nila!”
Direk Soxie recalls that when one reality search opened for auditions, a whole coliseum was filled with aspirants.
“Ganun kadami yung gusto mag-artista. Most of them who joined, ang alam lang nila, guwapo sila at maganda sila. Hindi talino, hindi galing.”
Such is the reality of entertainment today, he notes.
“Malungkot, kasi kami ang nahihirapan, e. Kaming mga direktor! Yung ibang writer naman, akala nila, pagkagagaling ng mga artista nila…”
UGE VS NORA? Eugene clarified at the outset that she will not copy or aim to match the Superstar’s acting.
“Nag-usap kami ni Direk Soxie, ni Maribel [Legarda, PETA director], at ni Laly [writer], na kahit banlian niyo ako ng kumukulong tubig—hindi ko kaya yung ginawa ni Nora Aunor!”
The Kimmy Dora star says that she, of course, means to pay tribute to a Filipino classic film.
“Ang pinaka-gusto kong mangyari dito, ’pag napanood ni Ate Guy, maaaliw siya.
"At gusto ko, ipakita sa kanya na ang ginawa niya noon hanggang ngayon, bilang classic ito, ay dapat pa ring mapanood.
“The essence of the film is still there, definitely. But we have to cater to more audiences because the socio-political environment then is very different from now.
“So, ito ay pagpupugay natin kay Lino Brocka, kay Cenen Ramones, at kay Nora Aunor sa kanilang klasikong trabaho.”
Bona will be staged from August 24 to September 23, 2012.
Venue: PETA Theater Center, No. 5 Eymard Drive, New Manila Quezon City. (Behind Capital Sports Club.