"I always dreamed of being a rock star and this is the closest I could get," Ricky Lee said during his closing remarks at the launching of Si Amapola sa 65 na Kabanata, his second novel after Para kay B (o kung paano dinevastate ng pag-ibig ang 4 out of 5 sa atin) three years ago.
A rock star like Ely Buendia—who performed two songs with the band Pupil and sent fans screaming—Ricky Lee will never be.
The "closest" was a full-blown production of music, comedic spiels, and audio-visuals, with laser beams and klieg lights sweeping the huge venue last Sunday, November 27.
A celebration, actually!
Attendance surpassed the 1,200-capacity of Sky Dome, SM North Edsa.
This was no hakot crowd merely wanting to see their favorite stars.
They had bought Ricky’s new novel already through the pre-selling strategy of his Philippine Writers Studio Foundation Inc.—the group of writers and other artists who worked the longest hours (labor of love) to realize the "super-successful launch," as member Dino Manrique put it on Facebook.
To rev up the vibes, a spectacular opening number—a dazzling cosplay of the various Amapola characters—entered the stage.
Winged models (aswangs) paraded in flamboyant gowns and costumes of all rainbow colors, and the audience went "WOW!"
VTR clips of showbiz personalities who have worked with Ricky in different movie and TV projects, appeared larger-than-life and heaped well-deserved praise on the hardworking genius of a screenwriter—directors Mac Alejandre, Joel Lamangan, Gil Portes, Olivia Lamasan, Rory Quintos, and Jerry Lopez Sineneng (program director).
National Artist for Literature Dr. Bienvenido Lumbera praised Ricky’s generosity and encouraged him to continue writing literature.
Mac Alejandre said Ricky has a "beautiful, beautiful heart" and a "life that’s open to extreme joy."
No need to guess who raised the loudest cheers and applause...!
Of course, Superstar Nora Aunor, whose name figures prominently in the novel; Star for All Seasons and Batangas Governor Vilma Santos; and matinee heartthrob Piolo Pascual, who thanked Ricky for influencing his poetry.
Wearing a violet, feather-lined terno, Nora acknowledged Ricky as her biographer (someday).
Vilma’s message was most relevant for young writers.
"We need writers like Ricky," she said, and praised his openness in sharing his talent with others; she called his works in both film and fiction "feminist" because of his strong characters.
Next, the program hosts were introduced (voice over) as: "...idols ng mga bakla...na madalas ding mapagkamalang bakla...Miss Eugene Domingo and Miss Ai-Ai de las Alas!"
There was hardly time to rehearse the program script written by Joel Mercado, Ricky revealed later in a phone chat.
In fact, we caught Joem Bascon and Joel Lamangan practising their parts when we were allowed to enter the venue at around three o’clock.
A big crowd of Amapola ticket (bookmarks) holders was still lining up before the ticket booths outside.
Writers Studio members/volunteers were rushing everywhere, running the ticket booths, ushering in people, video-documenting the event.
Ricky was busy posing for photo ops with fans and friends, and giving interviews.
At 3:45 p.m. the heavy glass door was opened by the guards and people started streaming in.
Ai-Ai delas Alas and Eugene Domingo carried the show forward without a hitch (if any, only they would know).
They kept the audience smiling and chuckling with their repartee in between readings from Ricky’s "political comedy" (as he calls it).
Ricky introduced the readings with a teaser on Amapola’s link to the Spanish colonial regime through his great grandma Sepa, who loved Andres Bonifacio, and Amapola’s fate as the prophesied savior of his kababayans.
In seamless sequence, Paulo Avelino (reading the impersonator-dancer Amapola’s sardonic attitude), Martin Escudero and the UP Repertory (interpreting two excerpts through dance)...
Cherry Pie Picache, Direk Joel Lamangan, Joem Bascon, Judy Ann Santos and Ryan Agoncillo...
and ABS-CBN President Charo Santos-Concio gave glimpses of the 364-page novel.
After Direk Joel’s excerpt titled, "Bawal na Pag-ibig, si Sepa at Andres," Asia’s Diva Dulce did a powerful rendition of Andres Bonifacio’s "Pag-ibig sa Tinubuang Lupa" which moved the audience into reverent silence.
And then loud applause.
Dulce’s performance would have been a hard act to follow.
But not for the famous "Oprah," who chose Amapola for her Book of the Month Club—and Ricky Lee as her new favorite because she was "making tam-poh to Charisse" for choosing David Foster as her foster father instead of her.
Jon Santos’s impersonation of Oprah, wearing a black ruffled top and black slacks, was a hit!
After delivering an exaggerated drawl of Oprah’s English, like Ricky Lee bringing her to Greenhills to buy cheaper Guccci (sic), Jon-Oprah read the witty "Alamat ng Bakla" by which Amapola teaches the little boy Truman about gender without borders.
People were enjoying the show so much, they may have missed subtle changes as the readings progressed from comedy to darker and darker situations.
Anyway, that will become palpable as readers turn the pages of Amapola’s saga.
So, the well-applauded Juday-Ryan couple read the long sequence about the death of Emil, a die-hard fan of Nora Aunor, in the stranglehold of the fat aswang Giselle’s long tongue.
To Charo Santos-Concio went the reading of another tragi-comic scene in the novel’s finale, Kabanata 65, which depicts the protest rally and subsequent massacre of aswangs in a salt storm whipped up by their enemies.
This excerpt rang strongly of the massacre of Lapiang Malaya peasants in 1967, which Ricardo Lee covered as a journalist and re-created in his short story, "Si Tatang, Si Freddie, Si Tandang Senyong at Iba Pang mga Tauhan sa Aking Kuwento."
Charo then expressed thanks for being part of the event and called on Ricky as the program was ending.
The celebrated author kept it short and sensible.
He revealed that it took him three whole years to finish Amapola, and there were early mornings he found himself in tears while writing (or perhaps not writing). Yet he always felt the support of many people.
He then thanked the Sky Dome management, ABS-CBN, Star Cinema, the media, teachers, and his countless friends in the provinces.
The evening did not end there.
While Amapola’s creator signed his books on one side of the stage, YES! Magazine’s executive editor Pete Lacaba and his Salinawit group—Dulce, Bayang Barrios, and Cookie Chua—sang a few meters away.
Backtracking to Ricky Lee’s important closing remarks, again he raised the banner for writers, saying that people may regard writers as "invisible, pero totoo kami."
In fact, every book launching has been a celebration not only of his achievement but of the Filipino writer’s crucial value in society.
Thus inspiring others, like Sigfreid Barros-Sanchez on Facebook: "Sa panahon ng mga blogs at mga ebooks, it’s nice to know na meron pang gumagawa ng mga nobela na Pinoy, na ang book launch ay pinipilahan pa rin na para bang isang sikat na banyagang pelikula. Mabuhay ka Ricky! You make us Pinoy writers proud. Mabuhay ang mga manunulat na Pilipino!"