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By Juli Ann M. Sibi
Cebu Daily News
Cebu-based filmmaker, poet and journalist Ara Chawdhury garnered national attention after her feature film, Miss Bulalacao, won Best Screenplay in the annual CinemaOne Originals Film Festival.
The film is an alien abduction story centered on Dodong, a 15-year-old drag princess, who won a gay pageant in a town named Bulalacao.
Dodong’s father, described by Chawdhury as a “typical misogynistic provincial father,” got mad, causing Dodong to hide up in a mango tree with silent wishes of being a woman.
Unknown to Dodong, something “magical” was already happening. Weeks later, Dodong finds out he is pregnant—a wish come true.
The film then explores the reactions of a provincial community, inspired by Chawdhury’s idyllic hometown of Naval, Biliran, wherein many beliefs are tinged with an unusual mix of superstition and Catholicism.
“What I wanted to achieve with the film was to show this extremely urbanized audience, the views and perspectives of majority of the Filipinos who live in the province, on today’s social issues—about women empowerment and about our LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual) community,” Chawdhury told Cebu Daily News.
She said the film was based on her experiences when she was herself pregnant two years ago, and was living with her mother in Biliran.
“I was growing bored and antsy with the slow pace of living in Biliran. Christian (Linaban), my partner who was in Cebu at that time, told me to look around and write a story with what was available and born out of that was the initial drafts for Miss Bulalacao,” Chawdhury said.
She described their home in Biliran as one that sits atop a small hill. Living in their house was household help Ate Marjorie and her family.
Ate Marjorie’s husband, a habal-habal (motorcycle-for-hire) driver, was the inspiration for Dodong’s father, who often imposed his highly traditional views of what a woman should be.
“He would often say that women should always stay at home, you know, it’s the typical provincial man who believes that that’s all women can be, and it’s really not,” said Chawdhury.
Marjorie’s step son, a young boy who was encouraged to join a talent competition, was Chawdhury’s initial inspiration for Miss Bulalacao’s main character. Mixed with her experiences as a pregnant woman in the province, Dodong was conceptualized.
“Bulalacao was actually one of the stories I shelved for a while. When Cinema One started accepting applications for films, my industry mates in Cebu wanted me to submit a story. I decided on Miss Bulalacao and I finished writing it in a week,” she said.
Chawdhury, who also won this year’s Sinulog Film Festival with Operation Prutas, believes that through wins like this, the national film industry will be able to embrace the burgeoning local film industries that are “filled with character, flavor and originality.”
“The problem with today’s national film industry is that there is too much concern with image, fitting in, and being part of the trend. What they are missing is what we, in the local scene can provide, and that is originality, and ultimately, a love for the craft,” she said.
Chawdhury studied in the University of the Philippines-Cebu and has been in the local film industry since her early college days, taking part in other acclaimed CinemaOne Originals such as Damgo ni Eleuteria by Remton Zuasola which won in 2010, and Aberya by Christian Linaban in 2012, among others.
“I believe that the media we consume influences how we see ourselves in relation to the world. I hope the Bisaya films we make inspire self confidence in our own culture and dialect.”
Miss Bulalacao features Cebuano actors like Russ Ligtas as Dodong, Chai Fonacier who won “Best Supporting Actress” in the film festival, and Mon Confiado, who played Emilio Aguinaldo in the critically acclaimed Heneral Luna, among many others.