Remembering Bituing Walang Ningning
SOUNDS FAMILIAR - Baby A. Gil () - May 15, 2006 - 12:00am
Bituing Walang Ningning has come a long way. It is now a sineserye from ABS-CBN starring Sarah Geronimo, Zsa Zsa Padilla, Ai-Ai de las Alas and Angelica de la Cruz. While nothing should really be considered impossible, I do not think that anybody thought then that the melodrama written by Nerissa Cabral and the music composed by Willy Cruz would still be alive and running hot 19 years later.

Bituing Walang Ningning
was first introduced as a komiks serial during the early ‘80s. It was the story of Dorina, an orphaned sampaguita vendor who dreams of becoming a big singing star like her idol Lavinia. It later turns out that Lavinia is not anything like what Dorina thought she is. This disillusionment spurs the young girl to make it big as a singer and later become Lavinia’s chief rival. But at the end when given the chance to totally surpass Lavinia in every way, Dorina gives up her success in favor of her idol and of the man she loves.

A pet project of the late Mina Aragon-del Rosario, Bituing Walang Ningning was made into a motion picture by Viva Films starring Sharon Cuneta, Christopher de Leon and Cherie Gil. It was a producer’s dream come true. Back then one sure way to ensure great box-office returns was to adapt a komiks story to the screen. Bituin was a big seller. The cast was very close to what the readers visualized. I do not know if Cabral wrote her novel with Sharon in mind for the lead role but the young singer-actress who was then on her way to mega stardom was perfect as Dorina.

Then there was the country’s top dramatic actor Christopher de Leon who had agreed to play the male lead. Playing opposite the great Christopher was an acknowledged rite of passage for every young actress and Bituin was Sharon’s chance. Assigned to direct was Emmanuel Borlaza who was coming from the huge success of another Sharon starrer Dapat Ka Bang Mahalin. And the music including the all-important theme song was to be by Willy Cruz who was riding high on the strength of his phenomenal composition Never Ever Say Goodbye by Nonoy Zuñiga who also composed Pangarap Na Bituin for Sharon.

But there were also problems, all of which could have made Bituin a disaster. There was the casting of Lavinia. There were two major candidates who had the looks and the voice and who could have done justice to the part, pop diva Kuh Ledesma and the upcoming Zsa Zsa Padilla. I do not know if the role was ever offered to Kuh but Zsa Zsa or her manager then declined because it did not seem right for her to play a villain in her first film appearance. Cherie Gil, a fine actress with patrician good looks, who could have been a pop star had she taken her singing career seriously, stepped into the part. Then about halfway through the filming Borlaza suffered a heart attack and was ordered by his doctor to rest. Leroy Salvador gamely took over. But that was not the worst of all. The 19-year-old Sharon, who had married Gabby Concepcion in September, 1984, was pregnant with her first baby.

But serendipity must have been working every step of the way because Cherie gave a fantastic performance and is still remembered by many for her classic line, "You are nothing but a second rate, trying hard copy-cat."

Salvador brought Hollywood flair to the drama. This, combined with Borlaza’s homespun approach resulted in a memorable film. As for Sharon, who had KC growing bigger and bigger inside her, there was nothing that some cleverly-placed props and interesting close-ups could not keep hidden. When the movie was released on Valentine’s Day, 1985, it was a huge success.

To this day, there is no way I can watch Bituin without getting that mysterious rush inside that tells me this imperfect film will always wield its unique magic on audiences forever. I still get teary-eyed when I get to the ending where Sharon stops singing Bituing Walang Ningning, hands Cherie the microphone to continue the song and then leaves the stage to begin life with Christopher. What an ending!

And what a song. Just as the motion picture became the centerpiece of what I like to call the Sharon trilogy, Bukas, Luluhod ang Mga Tala, Bituing Walang Ningning and Sana’y Wala ng Wakas, the song is remembered as one of the masterpieces composed by Willy for Sharon as themes for these movies, Pangarap Na Bituin, Bituing Walang Ningning and Sana’y Wala ng Wakas.

Strangely, while Pangarap Na Bituin and Sana’y Wala ng Wakas often turned up in new versions by other singers over the years, Bituin with its difficult opening bar, was never recorded by other solo singers, male or female. The first one who dared was Christopher in his album Mga Awit Pelikula ni Christopher de Leon early this year. More than any other male singer, he is the one who has every right to record the song and I was happy to see that he brought a whole new inspiring meaning to the beautiful lyrics written by Willy.

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