My mother AIDA CARMONA: the film & TV actress, remembrances of sequences past

My mother, who passed away in October 2016, was the Filipina-American film and television actress AIDA (RAGASA) CARMONA – most widely known in the entire Philippine archipelago as “Aling Atang” (Elder Lady Atang) in the 1980s soap, “Flordeluna” starring Janice De Belen.

Aida Carmona was born a Pisces with her Moon in Aries and Leo Rising. I, her eldest daughter on the other hand, had flipped the script when I was born with my Aries Sun and Pisces Moon. Mother and daughter have that Leo Ascendant in common, though, so you’re right in expecting that mother and daughter have this love for theater… and maybe emotional theatrics (grin). The Pisces element made Mom and me enamored with film and acting and pretend and roles. Meanwhile, the Aries element in our personae made us bold and passionate performers who went after what we want.

SEQ. 1. EXT. SMOKEY MOUNTAIN, TONDO, MANILA. DAY.

So there we were, Kuya Philip Salvador, maybe in his 20s at that time and nine-year old me, waiting for famous director LINO BROCKA’S assistant director to say, “Action!” I was supposed to call out, “Ate Cristy! Ate Cristy!” while crossing the smelly “estero” with Philip who was walking gingerly behind me, his film character unused to our Tondo slums. Ate Cristy is the young and sexy upcoming actress Amy Austria whom Kuya Lino was building up at that time besides Philip. My mother, AIDA, was playing my mother in this film: “JAGUAR,” which was a play on the word “guardia.” Philip played a poor and desperate security guard in this movie, which, like many other LINO BROCKA films, portrayed economic inequalities and social injustice in Philippine society. Kuya Lino’s protest films, many of which my mother starred in even in just small support roles, ran against the grain of the Philippine martial law era ethos when opposition to the government was quashed and discouraged. DISSOLVE TO –

SEQ. 2. INT. NIGHTCLUB. NIGHT.

Critically acclaimed film director ISHMAEL BERNAL talks in a gentle, low voice to his cinematographer while gesturing animatedly about the angles and lighting that he requires. Meanwhile my mother AIDA, playing one of the prostitutes in some godforsaken dump in the underbelly of Ermita, chats with her fellow “putachings” as she fans herself furiously with her abaca “pamaypay” as she sweats against the bright and burning kleig lights. Then the AD says Action and Mom gets in character and delivers her lines flawlessly. No asking what the hell her bloody motivation is. She is so damn good. This is Ishmael Bernal’s filmic ode originally titled “Manila By Night.” When the repressive Philippine government raised a ruckus, this landmark movie was alternately referred to as “City After Dark.” DISSOLVE TO –

SEQ. 3. INT. CLAUSTROPHOBIC HOUSE. NIGHT.

In here, AIDA CARMONA plays a maid, your ordinary “chimay, “utusan.” Not to give the plot away, though, because even if she’s just a lowly house-servant in this film, she turns out to be the only one who gets out of this household-based storyline alive. I am of course talking about the seminal film “Kisapmata” by brilliant

director MIKE DE LEON. One has to see this film to believe it but it’s not for the faint of heart. CUT TO-

There you have it. Brief filmic sequences from my mother’s actress life. She always said, looking back, that she was proud to have been directed on film by three of the BEST and MOST PRODIGIOUS DIRECTORS of her time: the AWARD WINNING, SOCIALLY RELEVANT ARTIST-DIRECTORS LINO BROCKA, ISHMAEL BERNAL, and MIKE DE LEON. We, her children, are truly proud of her legacy and bravely carry on.

FADE TO BLACK. THE END.

“Remembering a couple of notable Aries people” in this week’s issue of the MANILA MAIL (April 1-7, 2015; page A5)

Pilipinasblitz Forever
A column by Bles Carmona

For the week of April 1-7, 2015

REMEMBERING A COUPLE OF NOTABLE ARIES PEOPLE

April will always be the best month for me because I have my birthday on the 4th and in my mind, I have always associated April with a lot of happy memories. Growing up in Manila, that was when pupils like me had our summer vacation from school. For me, that’s the time to read amazing books, walk aimlessly, or play outside with my friends. Yes! We actually used to play outside until the midnight curfew. We played taguan, patintero, tumbang preso, luksong tinik, Chinese garter, and my favorite: siyato. If you need an explanation about any of the games I just mentioned, just email me.

Since I have Leo rising in my natal chart, sooner or later the glamor of showbiz would rub off on me one way or another. There will always be a part of me that will yearn for the spotlight in any of the performing arts. True enough, in my younger years, I had the privilege of working with the great Aries-born Filipino film director Lino Brocka (Apr. 3, 1939-May 21, 1991). It also helped that my mother, Aida Carmona, popularly known then as “Aling Atang” of the soap opera “Flordeluna,” has already been bitten well by the showbiz bug herself. My mother has starred as a supporting actress in many commercially and critically acclaimed films from the 1970s-1990s. However, among the memories that she cherishes the most were those of her several opportunities to work closely with Tito Lino, whom Mom calls a true “actor’s director.”

I asked my Mom to relate three distinct instances she can recall about Tito Lino. First off, when they were shooting a film in Currimao, Ilocos Norte, Tito Lino beheld the sand and the ocean (the South China Sea) and told my Mom, “Dito ko gustong magretiro. Ipagpapagawa ko ng bahay dito ang nanay ko.” (Transl.: “This is where I want to retire. I will build a house for my mother here.”) From this heartfelt declaration of Tito Lino, my mother felt his loving concern for his mother. Another thing that my Mom can recall was Tito Lino’s concern for film extras.

He would insist that the extras be allowed to eat first. His reasoning was that the extras do not have the luxury of bringing their own “baon” (lunch) on location shoots, hence, they should be the first ones to line up and get their respective meals. Still another memory that my mother shared with me about Tito Lino concerns his commitment to the arts. Mom asked him to chair a panel of judges in the Manila public high schools original one-act play contest. This contest was joined by the winning plays from each of the districts of Manila (Division of City Schools). Held at the Manila Science High School, this Playfest stood out in my Mom’s memory because right there and then, when Tito Lino announced the first place winning school, he immediately told the audience that he is donating PhP 5,000 out of his own pocket as first prize– which, in the 1980s, was a big deal of money especially for public high school students.

The great Lino Brocka was the recipient of many international and local directing awards. It was in 1977 when he was invited to show his film “Insiang” during the Directors’ Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival in France. This was followed by repeat invitations to Cannes on the strength of “Jaguar” in 1980 and “Bona” in 1981. Tito Lino’s film “Angela Markado” was entered to compete and it won Best Picture at the Nantes Film Festival in France. In 1984, his “Bayan Ko: Kapit sa Patalim” was exhibited in Cannes and it also won Best Picture with the British Film Institute. He received the 1985 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature, and Creative Communication Arts; the 1989 Gawad CCP Para sa Sining Pampelikula; and the 1990 Lamberto Avellana Memorial Award. A few years after his death, he was conferred the 1992 FAP Lifetime Achievement Award and the posthumous recognition of being a National Artist for Film.

I have fond memories of the great Lino Brocka, too. In 1979, along with my Mom and younger sister Cherry, who was 7 while I was 9, I was part of the ensemble support cast of Tito Lino’s “Ina, Kapatid, Anak” which involved location shoots in Magalang, Pampanga. I was googly-eyed at seeing Lolita Rodriguez, Charito Solis, and Rio Locsin in person! A few months later, I was again on location shoots in Tondo, Manila for “Jaguar,” where my Mom played my Nanay in the film too. In this film, I had not just one but several speaking lines, interacting with the characters played by Philip Salvador and Amy Austria. It was our director, Tito Lino Brocka himself, who gave me directions. He gave me his instructions as if I were an adult in whose acting ability he already has confidence. (He’s an actor’s director, remember?) True enough, after shooting some of my scenes on my first day on the set, I heard Tito Lino tell my Mom and the production manager (PM) that he’s increasing my per diem pay from Php 100 to Php 150. I was overwhelmed at the amount of money. Imagine that! My parents said that it would go towards my education and it did. Overall I think I had a call slip (to report for shooting) for a total of five days. My next project to be directed by Tito Lino was supposed to be a one-hour television drama pilot episode. However, some pre-production kinks weren’t ironed out so that pilot was never taped. I was 10 years old at the time. If that TV project pushed through, who knows where I would be now? A popular movie star? A serious, award-winning film actress?

Well, I have a very good friend who is both a movie star and an award-winning actress in Philippine showbiz, and her name is Snooky Serna. Cookie, as she is fondly called by those who know her well, is another Aries, being born on April 4, 1966. Take note, my friend Cookie and I share the same day of birth except for the year (mine’s 1970). I first met Cookie in person in 1988, during the shoot of a film helmed by Maryo J. Delos Reyes, “Kapag Napagod ang Puso.” My mother was part of the cast and I happened to be her “chaperone,” or in other words I was just a hanger-on. There was a female extra who didn’t show up, who was supposed to play Anjo Yllana’s squeeze but only for that scene. Apparently in the movie as Snooky’s younger brother, Anjo’s character will be changing girlfriends with each scene that he’ll be in. I was there, and maybe a PM pointed me out to Tito Maryo J, and the next thing I knew, I was led to the makeup corner to be fussed over and dolled up for the shoot.

Then of course it was time to get into our seats in that mini-theater. If memory serves me right it was at the Magnatech Omni in QC. The moment I caught Cookie’s eye, I excitedly gushed, “Miss Snooky, ang ganda-ganda ni’yo po.” She humbly thanked me. Not done yet, I told her, “Pareho po tayo ng birthday (We share a birthday),” to which Cookie said, “Ay, kaya pala pareho tayong mabait!” (“Oh, so that’s why both of us are kind.”)

The next time I met Cookie 10 years later, it was the start of a deeper friendship borne of common struggles and concerns. I can tell you firsthand that Ms. Snooky Serna is truly beautiful inside and out. Her heart is generous and kind, many times to a fault, because she feels other people’s pain and neediness too much. In terms of Snooky’s stellar career as an excellent actress “trained” in the Lino Brocka “school of acting,” in which Method is so overrated in favor of a more natural sort of acting: Cookie actually won her first award as FAMAS Best Child Performer in 1972 for the film “Sana Mahalin Mo Ako.” Then she was nominated for several films throughout the years until her Best Actress win in 1994 for “Koronang Itim” from FAMAS and the Cebu Archdiocese Mass Media Awards. One of her most recent wins was for Best Supporting Actress for the film “Paupahan” from the FAMAS and PMPC Star Awards in 2008. Snooky also won awards for her television portrayals. When I asked her what she really wanted most in life, Cookie said, “To raise my kids well and to act.” Hence we can say that acting is one major motivator for her. Cookie has always prayed that she be given film or TV projects that would challenge her as an actress because she is simply passionate about her craft.

For my part, I admit that I started out as Snooky’s fan when I was still in grade school, and then moved on to become her friend and confidante when I was in my late 20s before I moved to California in 2004. I look back on how I’d save my allowance so I could buy the movie magazines “Jingle Sensation” and “Jingle Extra Hot” every week so that I could keep track of Cookie’s films and any new “chismis.” Then fast-forward to our chance meeting in a waiting area somewhere, from which our deep friendship actually took root.

Cookie and I still keep in touch until now. I am humbled and privileged to know her. A fan dreams of meeting her idol, even if only to catch a glimpse of the movie star’s radiance. I dreamed of meeting Snooky Serna in person even just once, and now I’m one of her good friends, having gone through thick and thin with her not just once but many times.

Who knew? My dream did come true. Happy Solar Return to all our fellow Aries peeps!

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