Ang Babae sa Septic Tank: Was it stinky or not?

Saturday, August 13, 2011 § Leave a comment

This comes a little late, but then, I have to say something about Ang Babae sa Septic Tank. So even if things have settled down, here I am belatedly hurling out a word or two.

Ang Babae sa Septic Tank is a satirical comedy on Philippine independent filmmaking. It follows the story of  three young filmmakers who are about to make an indie film that they hope would send them to international film festivals and win them awards. Its narrative basically revolves around how the characters discuss the nitty-gritty of the movie and imagine it in different genres. Driven by their ambitious goal and believing that they have a story that would make them indie’s royal highness, the three characters — the producer Bingbong (JM de Guzman), the director Rainier (Kean Cipriano), and the production assistant Jocelyn (Cai Cortez) — tackle their movie with some amateurish passion.

Ang Babae sa Septic Tank poster

The film is, in one word, hilarious. Showing same scenes in different genres is one bold move and is the movie’s main comedic pull. But its strength is, of course,  in the parodies — like how Eugene Domingo is portrayed as a demanding big star who meddles in the movie treatment and how global recognition makes an indie film director stupidly self-possessed. Still,  Bingbong and Rainier’s intent desire to catch international recognition is the parody on which the movie is anchored.  As they pursue their art, the goal to express becomes second priority.

So you can see that underneath the comedy, there’s an issue on creative sincerity. These filmmakers’ choice of theme — poverty, the most exploited of themes — reflects this. Poverty makes gripping stories; and much more so, it creates disturbing pictures — poverty porn at its best. With this in tow, it is easier to win an award and get invited to international film festivals. At least, that’s how these filmmakers reason.

Ang Babae sa Septic Tank , which is set in the world of indie film production, has three filmmakers and a big star as main characters, and uses film production lingo, can automatically be set off as a film for film people and film buffs. But if you look beyond, you’ll see that it talks to all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds. It makes you ask yourself whether you’re doing what you’re doing because you want to serve its purpose or you’re doing it for some other reason.

I have little idea on how the movie registered to some. Like me, they might have laughed at Eugene’s solid acting, noticed JM’s and Kean’s promise, seen the brilliance in the execution, and appreciated the script’s intelligence.  But I don’t know if like me, they took home that one simple message: Sincerity.

“3 Idiots” is no idiot

Tuesday, July 5, 2011 § 1 Comment

I have many things to say about this movie, but let me start by asking, “Where was this movie when I needed it?” 3 Idiots, the 2009 Bollywood movie that swept the world off its feet, is a comedy masterpiece that talks about education, success, and passion, interwoven with friendship and coming-of-age themes. We already know what the story tries to tell, but in the mad race that is our society, we forget or, more appropriately, push them aside to keep up with others.

"3 Idiots" Poster

The movie lets us witness the journey of two long-time friends, Farhan and Raju, in search of their missing buddy, Rancho. It consistently switches from present to past and past to present, filling us in on their engineering college days, when they were forced to conform to the conservative educational system, when free thinking was stifled, and when being bookish was rewarded. Rancho, being the free-spirited, independent-minded person that he was, challenged this system to the great ire of their college director Viru Sahastrabudhhe, aptly nicknamed Virus by the students.

Set in a college where students were pressured to have grades that would secure a good job, the movie subtly yet entertainingly reminds us that studying is not about grades but about the love of learning. As Rancho, the perennial class first-placer, succinctly put it, “We study to be accomplished not to be affluent.” Oh, the life motto of the poor degree holders, you might say, but there’s an ample truth to it.

Here in this country, and everywhere else I surmise, education is almost equal to employment, a way to get a job and in the process acquire a shining social status. Rarely is education taken as an opportunity to learn, to fill and satisfy our minds. This is what Rancho tried to defy and which he made Farhan and Raju understand, amidst the persisting attempts of Virus to break up the triad he affectionately described as “idiots.”

By seeing how the movie is themed, you’ll figure that it doesn’t just stop at challenging our thinking about education, but it flows in the direction of our career viewpoints. And just as cleverly as it does with the education theme, 3 Idiots sets an encouraging tone in telling that we can do what we really want to do, allowing us to shun all the societal expectations and molds shaped for us. “Make your passion your profession,” Rancho said. For him, this sets the ground for a fulfilling career, because when you’re happy with what you’re doing, “work becomes play.” This is not to say, though, that slipping into mediocrity is an option; excellence should always be part of the equation. “Pursue excellence, and success will follow you” is a reminder from Rancho, which I think summarizes the whole point of the movie.

The three idiots, Farhan, Rancho, and Raju, singing their hearts out

The three idiots, Farhan, Rancho, and Raju, singing their hearts out.

The plot, albeit ultra multilayered, allows us to step back and rethink our choices. This is the movie for the young who are on the road to deciding on their future, but this is also the movie for the not-so-young who yearn for a push and a little reminder. It comes to grips with the usual, not to mention standard, measure of success and brings us all back to the basic of things.

Headlining a universal yet largely considered impractical core message, 3 Idiots took some risks. But the risks were overshadowed by a solid, light-hearted storytelling such that the movie is not in the least preachy even if it had the potential to be so. It gently talks to your heart, and with your heart you will respond. There lies the magic of the movie.

If you know me and what I’ve been through career-wise, you’ll easily see that 3 Idiots is my personal movie. It resonates with me and kind of affirms that I made the right decision. “Who cares what the world says? I’m gonna do what I think I want to do all my life, even if this means less money, even if this unpopular decision makes me significantly unpopular.” At the end of the day, it’s me who’s going to live with my choices, and ultimately, it’s me who’s going to answer the nagging question “Am I happy?”

The professors' enemy graduated.

With natural brilliance, the professors' enemy graduates.

For its convincing and powerful cast performances (especially of Indian superstar Aamir Khan playing Rancho), memorable songs, lovely dances, well-organized plot, brilliant script, and genius directing of Rajkumar Hirani, 3 Idiots made hard-to-surpass blockbuster records in India and overseas markets. And for its plot laden with intelligent and valuable messages, it won my heart. I’m in love with it in the way a 16-year-old is with a high school jock. And yes, I’m shamelessly announcing it, ’cause I don’t think it is enough to say it is now officially one of my favorite movies.

Different and enjoyable cinematic experience 3 Idiots is. And unarguably, it is one of the best and most thought-provoking movies in recent history. But I’m hoping that this unbelievably charming masterpiece didn’t only fulfill its entertainment duty but, in its own comical yet heart-tugging way, managed to inspire plenty of viewers to review their choices, pursue what they love, and break free from the uptight and stifling standards.

Why, by the way, were Farhan and Raju looking for Rancho? And where was he? That you have to find out. Find a copy of 3 Idiots or watch it online. I’m sure you’ll love its genius.

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