Insiang story as timely and as relevant as ever
STARBYTES - Butch Francisco () - June 24, 2001 - 12:00am
Insiang, a Lino Brocka masterpiece released for the 1976 Metro Manila Film Festival, has the distinction of having been chosen as one of the best films of the ’70s by the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino.

Written by Mario O’Hara, it is the story of a slum girl (Hilda Koronel) who feels unloved by her mother (Mona Lisa). The poor girl’s life becomes a living hell when her mother brings home a lover (Ruel Vernal) one day to live with them in their tiny shack. The situation turns from bad to worse for her when her mother’s lover rapes her and her mother later doesn’t even side with her. To get even with her mother and the lover, she hatches a plan that eventually results in a bloody ending.

Prior to Insiang’s release on the big screen in 1976, it was first presented as an episode in Channel 9’s weekly drama series, Hilda, in 1974.

The title role of Insiang was actually tailor-made for Hilda Koronel. She played it in the TV version when she was only 17. The mother – Tonia–in the TV drama, however, was not Mona Lisa. This role was actually originated by Yolanda Luna.

Rez Cortez, who played Hilda’s weakling boyfriend in the film version, was not in the original cast either. In the TV drama, it was Joseph Sytangco who played the spineless boyfriend who walks out on Hilda in a motel scene.

Ruel Vernal, however, was in the original TV presentation of Insiang – as the brutish Dado. It is a role for which he will be remembered for the rest of his life – and perhaps even after.

After Insiang, the plot of daughter rivaling her mother for the affection of another man was used in several other movies and teleplays. One that comes to mind is the movie Tatsulok, an upscale Insiang that featured Amanda Page as the balikbayan daughter of Elizabeth Oropesa. Albert Martinez plays the man who comes between them.

Last Wednesday, the material of Insiang was reprised in Channel 7’s weekly drama anthology Larawan.

This episode of Larawan – directed by Joel Lamangan – featured a new script by Elmer Gatchalian. It cast Assunta da Rossi as Elena, the only child of a market vendor, played by Gina Alajar. Despite their poverty, the girl is pretty satisfied with their station in life. The only thing she can’t swallow is her mother’s penchant for bringing home men to live with them in their house.

One day, Carlos Morales, her mother’s new paramour, comes to live with them. Assunta hates Carlos with a passion. Her hatred for him doubles – and even triples – after he rapes her right in their own home.

Since her mother refuses to send Carlos to jail in spite of what happened, Assunta decides to bring matters into her own hands. She pretends to be receptive to Carlos’ amorous behavior toward her – hoping that her mother would notice this and realize her mistake. Just like in Insiang, the mother – in a fit of jealousy – kills the lover and ends up in jail.

This episode of Larawan, of course, would pale in comparison to the film version of Insiang which is one of Brocka’s best works. It is, however, an improvement over the TV version that was aired 27 years ago. The Larawan episode – for one – had the advantage of filming outdoors, while Brocka had to make do within the confines of the Channel 9 studio when he made this same story for the Hilda drama series.

The Larawan episode also put new dimensions and added more depth into the story’s characters in order to make them more interesting to the viewers. In Insiang, for example, Hilda starts out as a basically obedient daughter who submits to her mother’s every wish. But not the character played by Assunta da Rossi in the Larawan version. Here, Assunta is strong-willed and capable of reasoning out to her mother. And Gina Alajar – as the mother – is not as cold and hard as the Tonia character in Insiang. She is, in fact, quite devoted to her daughter in the Larawan episode.

Although I already knew the flow of the story, I still finished the program up to the very end because of those interesting little changes along the way. (Gina Alajar even gets pregnant here – courtesy of Carlos Morales.)

And then, there were also the performances of the cast members to watch for. Well, Gina Alajar is Gina Alajar. Throw her any role and she’ll tackle it like she’s just singing a tune from Merry Melodies. Playing the part of the mother addicted to men, she goes through the difficult and delicate role in a most effortless manner.

On the part of Carlos Morales, he proves here in Larawan that the Best Actor trophy and several other nominations he received recently for Laro sa Baga was no fluke. He really is an intense actor ready to deliver excellent work given the proper guidance and the right role.

And Assunta da Rossi? Well, she had difficulty playing the part of the naïve and innocent girl in the beginning. Maybe this has something to do with the fact that she’s quite tall and mature-looking despite her young age.

But in the part where she already loses her innocence, she readily delivers a fine and credible performance. Of course, she’s still no match to Hilda Koronel’s acting in Insiang because that’s really one performance that’s quite difficult to surpass or even equal.

Assunta should also be thankful that she was aided by a well-written script in Larawan. In spite of the fact that this material has been done countless times before, there were still innovations to the story that made it look new, fresh and exciting.

But why make another Insiang – some people may ask? That was also the question I had in mind when I saw the trailer of Larawan early this week. After watching the episode, however, I came to realize that this story is still relevant and timely in this present generation.

In fact, with grinding poverty all around us – which often leads to moral decay, there are more Insiangs in society today compared to the time this story was first written many, many years ago.

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