A scene from “Ang Nawalang Kapatid.” Photo by Vlad Gonzales

MANILA — How does one recreate the great Indian epic “Mahabharata,” described as the longest epic poem ever written, into a two-act stage musical in Filipino? How does one capture the layers and complexities of Indian tradition without being contrived?

And how does one fuse all of the epic’s philosophical musings on love, war, family, duty, divinity and spirituality into a tight and cohesive piece?

Throw in the fact that Dulaang UP’s staging of “Ang Nawalang Kapatid,” based on the “Mahabharata,” features an all-student cast and crew, and you have a recipe for one big pseudo-Bollywood hot mess.

Thankfully, playwright and lyricist Floy Quintos, director Dexter Santos and composer Ceejay Javier acquitted themselves and came up with an elegant and regal Filipino adaptation.

Quintos distilled the epic poem and focused on themes that Filipino audiences can easily connect with: the warring saga between the royal clans of the Pandavas and Khauravas, and the moral dilemma of the “lost brother” Karna if he will uphold family ties and blood lines or his obligations to self and state.

Highlight other elements such as kings and queens consumed by vanity and punished by gods; and children born out of “mysterious” circumstances, given away and then found again after several years, and you have one gripping teleserye-like tale.

In this adaptation, Karna — born as a curse to his mother Queen Kunti for having slighted a goddess — is thrown away as a baby. He grows up to be a good warrior under the care of monkey king Hanuman.

When he comes of age, he travels to a distant kingdom. Because of his fighting skills, Karna is taken in as a brother by Kaurava prince, Duryodhana, who in turn is in a bitter battle against his cousin, Yudhisthira of the Pandava clan over the love of princess Draupadi.

Because of madness and lust, the battle over love escalates into a full-blown war over the kingdom. It is in the thick of war that Karna discovers that his enemies, the Pandava brothers, are his brothers, too.

A scene from “Ang Nawalang Kapatid.” Photo by Vlad Gonzales

Santos’ breathless direction from start to finish was a daring move. The pace is kept tight and gripping, with nary a dull moment. The opening number, “Dakilang Kasaysayan ng Sangkatauhan,” which establishes the entire back story of the birth of the royal cousins in one big sweep, is a feat in itself.

It took five choreographers (Santos, Jeffrey Hernandez, Albernard Garcia, Vincent Kevin Pajara and Stephen Vinas) to stage the numbers, and I can understand why. The long numbers are a test of stamina for any performer, and the styles run the gamut from tribal to Asian, from graceful to acrobatic. Even the scenes with spoken dialogue are imbued with courtly, balletic gestures.

The show is rife with vivid imagery. Among them, the birthing scenes of Queens Kunti and Ghandari, and the “disrobing” scene of princess Draupadi where god Krishna intervenes and spares her from shame by weaving an endless trail of cloth.

But the most stellar visuals in the show come from the climactic battle scene where blood, earth and rain create an intense tapestry of violence and death.

Javier’s music is not your expected Indian cliche. The sitar is used sparingly, mainly to punctuate spoken lines, but the rest of the songs have that world music, pop rock, tribal Filipino feel. But with all the heavy panting in the show, it’s the ballads such as “Lukso ng Dugo” which give audiences (and the actors) the breathing space.

The ladies in the show shine with their presence and voices, namely Teetin Villanueva as Draupadi and Ronah Adiel Rostata as Reyna Kunti (though Rostata needs to hone her technique. Performing with a hoarse voice in Act 2 could damage her vocal chords.)

The gentlemen in the show are balls of energy. There’s a propensity, though, for most of the male actors to equate urgency of dialogue with speed and volume, much to the detriment of clarity and nuance. They will grow into more refined performers with more training and technique. Still, there were good moments from Jules dela Paz as Vyasa, Ross Pesigan as Karna, Jon Abella as Yudhisthira, Vincent Kevin Pajara sa Duryodhana, Mark Dalacat as Haring Pandu, Marvin Olaes as Dritarastra, John Paul Basco as Krishna, and the rest of the male cast.

“Ang Nawalang Kapatid” is on its final weekend at the Wilfredo Ma. Guerrero Theater at the University of the Philippines.

(The above post was originally published on abs-cbnnews.com: http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/lifestyle/02/20/14/review-dulaang-musical-breathless-start-end )


Why people can relate to ‘Starting Over Again’


Toni Gonzaga as Ginny and Piolo Pascual as Marco in a scene from ‘Starting Over Again.’ Screen capture from movie trailer.

“Do we still have a second chance?  Naniniwala ka rin ba na (do you also believe) our love story deserves a better ending?”  And with that, Ginny (portrayed by Toni Gonzaga) turns the world of her ex-boyfriend Marco (Piolo Pascual) askew in the box-office hit movie ‘Starting Over Again.’

After four years, Ginny returns to Manila from Barcelona, and discovers that Marco has moved on.  He’s in a wonderful relationship with Patty (Iza Calzado).  To make the blows harsher, Patty turns out to be kind, smart, successful and, yes, “kamukha ni (looks like) Mama Mary.”  Life is indeed unfair.

Do we still have a second chance?  It’s a line, perhaps, that has been replayed many times in your mind when you think of your ex.  You might even have said it out loud to that person.  It’s hard to let go of someone you love, someone who has touched your heart so deeply, that’s why you hold on to every last shred of hope.

This romantic film directed by Olivia Lamasan does not spare audiences from the depths of anguish, even if it is frighteningly painful.  Many people accept the fact that perfect endings are hard to come by.  I would have stormed out of the theater had this film chosen a different ending.

Why do many people relate so personally to the film?  Let me count the ways:

1. It’s not always love at first sight.  Sometimes, it’s love after irritation.

How many times have you found someone annoying, even obnoxious, only to fall crazy in love with that person? Indeed, thin is the line between love and hate.  It’s just like Marco who admits in his email to Ginny that he disliked her initially.

Sometimes, irritation is just a defense mechanism.  Often we are attracted to someone who mirrors our own qualities, the good and bad.  We can’t help it.  It’s part of our narcissistic nature.  And sometimes, if we’re lucky, the person we detested but have fallen for turns out to be a great person beneath the hard surface.

2.  Everything is perfect, until fear sets in and you run away.

Things were going rosy for Marco and Ginny.  They started making plans for a lifetime of togetherness, until familiarity set in.  Ginny saw too much of her failure-of-a-father in Marco that she had to escape.  As a friend once said, many would rather go for the easy way out, rather than the uncertainty of hard choices but with the potential to makes us truly happy.

When things fail, we beat ourselves up and realize how cowardly we were.  Toni was brilliant in her breakdown-in-bed scene.

3.  When you miss someone you love, every little thing can be a reminder of that person.

The smallest thing can trigger the deepest memories with that person: a scent, a word, a place, a time of day, a season, a food or drink, a color, a sound, a laugh, a smile, a gaze, a look.

Ginny learned from Marco that tastes and flavors of food evoke sensual memories of a person.  For Marco, a picture, a sketch on a paper that’s yellowing with age can open the floodgates of memories.

4.  Dealing with a break-up is indeed like grieving over the loss of a loved one.

When you break-up with a partner, the void is palpable, like a gaping hole in the heart. “I almost died,” Marco cried out to Ginny in their confrontation scene.  And no matter how hard you try, no matter how much love and support you get from family and friends, no matter how hard you count your blessings, nothing can seem to fill that empty space.

And you do go through the stages of grief, albeit unconsciously: denial, anger, depression, and if all proceeds well, you reach acceptance.  But before you reach acceptance…

5.  You will bargain, plead, even settle for scraps,  just to reclaim that person and win him/her back into your life.

What an amazing kitchen confrontation scene between Ginny and Patty.  My eyes almost popped out of their sockets and my ears couldn’t believe what they were hearing as Ginny tried to mess with Patty’s mind, break her confidence in Marco and eventually driver her to give Marco up.

Many people have those embarrassing moments when pride goes flying out the window, and you sink to the lowest depths to get your ex to love you again.  It doesn’t always work out, but somehow, you think it’s better to do it and fail, than wonder what could have been and have regrets later on.

6.  Just when you think you’ve moved on, life plays a trick on you.

There’s a chance encounter; a text, call or email out of the blue.  Often, this tests your resolve and you start seeing signs (or signs you want to see):  Why did we have to meet each other again?  Maybe we’re meant to get back together…

Ginny asked herself that question over and over again.  You convince yourself that you’ve gotten over a person, but seeing him/her with someone else makes your chest feel like it’s going to explode.

You pretend you’re cool, but you’re a ball of nerves when you see each other again.  You dress your best, you try to look more gorgeous and successful to make the other person regret breaking-up with you, but secretly you want him/her back.  You just have to test the water if there’s still spark or magic between you two.

7.  You’ll know when it’s time to give up, lick your wounds and move on.

Often you just want closure, for not everyone can deal with open-ended questions and unfinished business.  Ginny and Marco had the benefit of closure.  What a bittersweet hospital scene that was.

But not everyone is as fortunate as to have that opportunity to settle score.  What to do?  When do you stop trying and finally let go?  You realize eventually that you set your own limits.  You’ll know when you’ve given as much as you could, and tried as hard as you can.

When you’ve done all you could, hopefully you can pick up the pieces, get back on your feet, cherish the good memories, look back without regrets, and gaze into the future, if not with hope, then at least with the knowledge that you will soon be okay.

You will eventually learn to love yourself, and be your own best friend.  And if you’re lucky, you’ll meet someone special again. ###


Read more self-empowering posts below:

Taking charge of your own happiness

How to be happier in the New Year

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This way to Facebook

There’s a downside to giving my mother a new tablet device.  She’s now more addicted to social networking than I.  There’s this eager impulse to post and share photos as quickly as possible.  I also get the incessant questions on how to do this and that function.  Such is the handiwork of Facebook.

On February 4, Facebook celebrated its tenth anniversary.  Has it only been ten years?  Facebook is such a part of life now that many would find it hard to imagine a day without it.

In his personal Facebook page, Mark Zuckerberg, wrote on the day of Facebook’s anniversary that he never thought that the social networking site would be as big as it is today.  He just cared more about wanting to connect people.

Zuckerberg said he’s even more excited about the next ten years.  “The first ten years were about bootstrapping this network. Now we have the resources to help people across the world solve even bigger and more important problems,” Zuckerberg wrote.

Big words for an enterprise that began in a Harvard dorm room.  Now Facebook’s headquarters sits on a sprawling property in Menlo Park, California.  It’s fondly called “campus” by Facebook denizens not just because of its size and feel but, in all likelihood, because of the mindset of the people working there.

I had the chance to visit this temple of social networking last fall along with other foreign journalists.  The street sign revealed the fact that we’ve reached Facebook’s famous digs:  It’s a big blue and white thumbs-up sign, now the universal symbol for “like,” and the street name reads “1 Hacker Way.”


Welcome to Facebook. The receiving area.


Welcome treats

The receiving area is modest, but there are treats on the reception counter: tiny boxes of assorted jelly beans and foil-wrapped chocolate truffles.  Very whimsical.

But the main ‘treat’ is when you step out into the main campus bathed in the San Francisco, California sun.  It’s like stepping into Disney Land’s Main Street:  A complex of low-rise buildings with splashes of bright, primary colors here and there, the streets lined with trees and manicured lawns, and an assortment of enticing shops and establishments.


The Facebook campus



We were hoping that a Facebook executive (maybe even Zuckerberg himself) would sit down with us for an interview.  Many of us were raring to discuss issues on journalism in the social media world, and the business and economics of social networking, but we were disappointed when no face time was granted to us, and all we got was a walking tour.


One of Facebook’s dining outlets


FB burger shack



So what did we see in Facebook’s campus?  There are several dining outlets, all free for employees: a café, barbeque place, sushi restaurant, burger shack, American-style diner, pizzeria, coffee shop, and a very popular sweets shop where one can have a fill of cakes, cookies, ice cream and yoghurt with an assortment of mix-ins.


The sweets shop



And if, after all that, you still get hungry in the office, there are pantries packed with snacks, fruits and drinks that you can grab as you please.


The offices have lots of capricious touches all around, perhaps to encourage creativity and out-of-the-box thinking: a graffiti wall, a phone booth with a Superman costume, various wall art, Ping Pong tables, treadmill machines, etc.




And as if the entertainment was not enough, there’s an arcade with video games where weekly ‘tournaments’ are held, an arts and crafts workshop, and many more.  With all the attractions (and distractions), I wonder how people there get any work done.


The video arcade center


I’m amazed (sometimes baffled) that Facebook, the single biggest social network in the world which has changed life as we know it, churns out its work from this veritable playground slash amusement park.

And yet when you listen to Zuckerberg, playtime is farthest from his mind.  “Today, social networks are mostly about sharing moments. In the next decade, they’ll also help you answer questions and solve complex problems… In the next decade, technology will enable us to create many more ways to capture and communicate new kinds of experiences,” Zuckerberg wrote.

Perhaps this is the key to Zuckerberg’s success: he sees the glass half full, he views the world with rose colored glasses, he sees opportunities when people see stumbling blocks.

And it seems there are stumbling blocks ahead.  A report from Reuters showed a number of people who are unsure of Facebook’s future.  “I don’t like Facebook anymore… it was a good way to get in contact with my friends, but now it seems like it just distracts me when I need to get work done,” one user said.

Another one had this to say: “I started using (Facebook) every day, and checking how many likes I got, and it made me feel like I was a superficial person.”

Still another said, “There’s a lot of unnecessary pages, too many ads, and then of course, all the stuff about your privacy being invaded, that’s not good either.”


The yellow brick road

There was another design element in Facebook’s campus that I almost forgot to mention:  It’s a yellow brick road much like in the “Wizard of Oz” which took Dorothy to the Emerald City where the Wizard resides.  Perhaps it’s a metaphor to Facebook, a social networking behemoth of seemingly infinite possibilities, straddling the road between real and imagined, fantasy and reality.