Wednesday, August 10, 2011



WHEN it was confirmed that Nora Aunor was not onboard the Philippine Airlines Flight PR 730 that landed at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 2 in the early morning of July 21, perhaps not a few entertainment observers merely shrugged their shoulders and said, “So what else is new?”
This, after all, was Nora Aunor, the woman who has become legendary as much for making people wait for hours on end—VIP or not—as for the sublime genius of her artistry as an actor and as a singer.
Not long after the news went around that Nora was a no-show, the fallout began with blogs and news sites devoted to the local entertainment scene becoming littered with a steady stream of unsavory comments about continuing follies and persistent intransigence and diminished stardom, with some entertainment writers and columnists even suggesting that nobody really cares anymore if Nora made the trip or not.
Fast-forward to August 2 at the Edsa Shangri-La Hotel in Mandaluyong City, where the media that packed the function room wall to wall got up on their seats and craned their necks as soon as the doors opened and dramatic music played to usher in Nora Aunor, the scene quickly unraveling into a splendid chaos as just about everybody rushed to see and touch and embrace this woman whose dimunitive size belies the outsize power of not just her talent but her personality as well. Not a few cheeks were stained with tears as well, among them Nora’s.
It might as well have been a pocket re-enactment of the spectacular scene at the end of Himala, that seminal 1982 film that Nora did with the late great Ishmael Bernal and which continues to garner acclaim so many years after (the lone Filipino film chosen by CNN as one of the 10 best Asian films of all time, and awarded the CNN APSA Viewers Choice Award for Best Asia-Pacific Film of all Time, both in 2008).
Not bad for an actor and a celebrity whom supposedly nobody cares for anymore.
Nora Cabaltera Villamayor—it is a name that rolls off the tongue with an imperious flourish, but the reality of Nora Aunor’s early life was anything but imperial. Her early days as a water vendor for the thirsty train passengers embarking and disembarking at her hometown of Iriga in Bicol has been told and retold so many times that it now seems like urban legend, apocryphal, and needs no retelling here.
That such a gem of an artist—this haunting actor, this exquisite singer—could emerge from the dusty railroad of some fourth-class city perhaps was the first indication that there is nothing ordinary about Nora Aunor, nor will there be anything ordinary about her.
She is, after all, the one who singlehandedly changed the face of Philippine entertainment, a landscape once reflective of our inferiority complex as a long colonized country until Nora made it possible for the Gina Alajars and the Amy Austrias and the Judy Ann Santoses to achieve fame and acclaim. She is, after all, The Superstar—the one and  only—who redefined the meaning of “celebrity” by that unprepossessing quality of character, the sheer beauty of that golden voice, the absolute power of her art as an actor—yes, even during her salad days when she would sing to dwarfs besides Tirso Cruz III, prompting no less than the late great Nick Joaquin to wax poetic about her.
In his book on Nora, titled Nora Aunor and Other Profiles, Joaquin writes: “She has broken the color line in the Philippine movies, where the rule used to be that heroines must be fair skin and chiseled of profile. Though neither fair nor statuesque, she has bloomed into a beauty all the more fascinating because it’s not standard. Seen close up, her complexion shows fine gold tints, her features reveal a delicacy of outline, and her large liquid eyes are lovely.”
It is a celebrity the likes of which local entertainment has not seen before or since, one that has been fueled for decades by something seemingly undefinable until one ultimately recognizes that quantifiable something in the idolatry—the masterful quality of her artistry, which Nora’s adoring public has long held onto for inspiration and even redemption in their own seemingly ordinary lives, this through the ups and downs of her career in the face of the whims of public taste, through sometimes her own unraveling in the wake of familial or romantic tempests.
It is that mastery, that genius that has made Nora Aunor relevant long after when she no longer has to be ferried from a movie premiere on top of a fire truck due to fan pandemonium, and even when her critics repeatedly insist that she no longer is, their wishful thinking routinely flouted by accolades that continue to come even during the quiet periods in her artistic life, like that from CNN in 2008, or, more recently, 2010’s Green Planet Award as one of the 10 Asian Best Actresses of the Decade.
The list of awards and accolades is indeed long, so we will do away with the laundry list and just let Wikipedia cite a few highlights ( “the only Filipino actor with the most number of international best actress awards [Cairo 1995, East Asia 1997, Brussels 2004] and nominations [Berlin 1983, Singapore 1997, Cairo 1999, Singapore 1999]; the first Filipino actor to win an international acting award in a major film festival [Cairo 1995 for the movie The Flor Contemplacion Story]; the first and only Filipino actor to receive an acting nomination from a top-tier international film festival [Berlin 1983 for the movie Himala]; the first Filipino actress to sit as juror in an highly recognized international film festival (Hawaii 1996); and the only Filipino and Asian actress apart from China’s Gong Li to be featured by HBO, an American cable TV network, in a documentary film about the lives and achievements of the world’s greatest actresses (1997).”
At the Edsa Shangri-La Hotel press conference hosted by TV5 to welcome Nora and announce the special miniseries that she will be doing for them, Nora, reacting to a query about being the second choice for the historical movie that she will be doing with Laguna Gov. ER Ejercito under the direction of Tikoy Aguiluz, said in the vernacular: “It really doesn’t matter that I was second choice. Besides, I don’t think I still need to prove anything as an actress.”
A week or two from now, Nora Aunor will begin working on the still-untitled miniseries for TV5, under the direction of Mario O’Hara. Those who know Nora’s filmography well will, of course, applaud the choice of O’Hara, whose collaborations with The Superstar yielded some of the most enduring classics in modern Philippine cinema, including 1976’s searing drama Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos, 1981’s electrifying Bakit Bughaw ang Langit and 1984’s blistering Bulaklak ng City Jail.
Will something equally seminal result from this new collaboration? Perhaps, but given the existing paradigm of not just TV dramas but TV itself, maybe the best one can hope for is a stirring showcase of Nora’s brilliant gift for drama that has been denied us Filipinos for the past eight years, leaving us all the more bankrupt for it.
Meanwhile, for her fans TV5 is hosting a “Superstar Grand Fans Day” on August 7 at the network’s studio in Broadway Centrum Complex. It will be a day dedicated to her fans and supporters.
Of course, we will be there. 

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