Monday, October 30, 2006

Life on one level

"Impressions," TV Times, 19-25 November 1978


Early though it comes in the night, Ilaw ng Tahanan was something I felt I had to catch last week. It seemed as good a time as any to do the continuing local dramas, those spin-offs from radio soap operas that have now invaded television.

And since, after one bout with the other local TV soap, I could not take its sickening melodrama again, I braced myself for an hour of Ilaw ng Tahanan. I tried to persuade myself: this could not possibly be much worse; it might even be better.

It was not very much better. But at least, for one whole hour of it last week, there was only a little of that pervading air of suffering and martyrdom that I simply could not abide in the other soap. Perla Bautista was supposed to be the ideal mother in the show, of course. And while it may not look believable that she would have children as old as both Rez Cortez and Charo Santos, she did manage to look comfortable and at ease in her role. Charo Santos was, well, Charo Santos, with the same brooding air that was her signature in Itim, the same intense melancholia. Gina Alajar had only a short stint in the episode that we watched, and Rez Cortez was gross enough to fit his role.

All around, it was hardly a memorable episode, just one in a continuing series. But it had one good thing going for it: its sequences were short, its scenes quite clipped. When you are watching a local melodrama, you thank your good fortune for the commercial break that slices the heaviness before it becomes unforgivably hilarious, for the change of scene that cuts the emotion before it starts dripping all over your bedsheet.

Luckily, too, that episode of Ilaw ng Tahanan had nothing offensively inane in it. I did not find myself feeling affronted by really stupid dialogue or really asinine action.

What I did not--and will never--like, though, is the impression that soap operas--all soap operas--convey, that dispiriting, persistent pulsebeat, almost an insistence that here, as we watch it, is the stuff of life--real life--unfolding before us, tugging at our heartstrings, distributing earthly wisdom with sonorous authority, grimly smothering us with the mantle of tragedy, the cloak of destruction, the crystal ball of Cassandra.

Please. What we see all the time in soap operas is not real life. It is too intense, lived too much on only one level, to be real life. In that one whole hour of Ilaw ng Tahanan, I never saw Charo Santos laugh, or even just smile, however reluctantly. Perla Bautista wore a perennial worried look. Gina Alajar's mother was angry and scathing in all her scenes.

Is this the infinite variety, the comic vitality, of life? Where are a few of those independent, quivering, unique, and truly interesting souls who, in the wealth of their emotional responses, make average human existence still the most absorbing subject of fiction? And where is that redeeming comic vision that leaves even the most heroic life and the most noble tragedy free of role-typing or categorizing? Where, indeed, is the complexity of contemporary life?

I guess we should not even pretend to look for them in a TV spin-off from a radio soap.

-- NBT

No title in original published column

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