Freeman Cebu Entertainment

‘Mahal Kita, Beksman’: A straight guy coming out in a gay world

Vanessa A. Balbuena - The Freeman

CEBU, Philippines — Make no mistake about it: Christian Bables’ latest collaboration with the IdeaFirst production company is not another ‘gay film.’ Filmmaker Perci Intalan in fact rectifies the term. He says there should be no such thing as a gay film, since LGBTQ members are characters – not a genre, as say, romance, horror, or comedy.

In “Mahal Kita Beksman,” recently released in select cinemas, Intalan and his long-time producing partner Jun Lana thought of doing a reverse story this time around.

“What if it’s a guy who grew up na mga bading ang nasa paligid, and people and society assume that he’s gay then realize he’s not – how will they accept that?” said Intalan, best known for the films “Dementia” and “Unforgettable”, and as executive producer of “Untrue”, “Die Beautiful”, “The Panti Sisters”, and more.

“Baliktarin natin na it’s a straight guy coming out in a gay world.”

Written by Cebuano Fatrick Tabada (Patay na si Hesus, Born Beautiful), “Mahal Kita Beksman” is about love and identity that celebrates being straight as much as being gay. It follows Dali, the only son of Jaime and Gemma (Keempee de Leon and Katya Santos) whom he fondly calls Papshiekels and Momshiekels.

Dali is a talented make-up artist and designer, which is not surprising as his father owns a beauty salon and his mother runs a dress shop. Bables (Big Night, Single Rock, Die Beautiful, The Panti Sisters) as Dali looks as flamboyant as the gays surrounding him that everyone just assumes he’s like them.

When it is revealed that he is not, everyone is in shock. Papshiekels is in denial, insisting that Dali is just going through a phase. Everyone agrees with him. But for Dali, this is not a passing thing. He is sure from the moment he bumps into Angel that she is the girl of his dreams.

Angel, played by Iana Bernardez (Mahal Kita with All My Hypothalamus, Metamorphosis), is the unica hija in their family. Her father is a sports coach, while her brothers run a gym and a car shop. With all their machismo, Dali definitely doesn’t fit the mold of the “ideal boyfriend” for Angel.

Faced with so many obstacles, Dali sets out to prove that he’s the right man for Angel as he also convinces everyone around him to look past his appearance and see a man truly in love with a woman.

“What we’re espousing now is to ‘Free your mind.’ We should no longer label people because we always say, love is love,” said Intalan. “So this film is actually a reverse of typical stories, and a lot of lessons can be gleaned in accepting someone – whether they be gay or straight.”

“Me and Jun, we regularly throw ideas. You know the LGBTQ community has been getting a lot of exposure and that’s good. With the SOGIE (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Expression Equality) Bill, there’s now a clear definition on gender orientation and sexual identity. When Jennifer Laude was killed and people didn’t understand why that was an issue, that’s why we made ‘Die Beautiful.’ We thought people did not understand the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity. How can we help explain that? But it wasn’t a serious talk that we have to make this an advocacy.”

He and Lana had heterosexual relationships during their younger years, and here came the germ for “Mahal Kita, Beksman.”

“When I was in high school, all my closest friends were gays and we were in an all-boys school. And then na in love ako sa isang babae and nanligaw ako. Ang mga tao sinasabi puro bading mga kaibigan niya. Even the girl I was courting knew that. Napasagot ko naman siya. Doon nanggaling yung idea,” he recalled.

Heart on his sleeve

For Intalan, who has worked with Bables in films that reaped awards, there was no other actor in mind that he thought perfect for the part.

The director and producer said, “It was important for me that Christian portray Dali kasi kuhang-kuha niya yung kailangan kong guy na sincerely malinaw sa puso niya kung ano ang gusto niya. And in real life, we know Christian to be someone who wears his heart on his sleeve.”

“Marami kaming dinaanan na characters together di ba? May Barbs, Darna, Samuel Panti…so hinanap namin kung nasaan si Dali. At nahanap kaagad ni Christian yun.”

Intalan appreciated how the 29-year-old actor took the initiative to deviate his portrayal from his previous similarly-themed roles.

“Hindi ko na kailangan ingatan pa kasi si Christian na mismo ang maingat doon. He immediately had a lot of questions,” he said.

The main challenge? How to convince audiences that this flamboyant man was truly in love with a woman. In a test screening before the film premiered in cinemas, Intalan said that the romance worked for them – and that was a testament to Bables’ acting skills.

“The biggest difference from my previous films, the sexual orientation of Dali is straight. His expression, yun lang ang wala sa standards na nakaugalian ng society natin na kung lalaki ka, dapat ganito ka. If you’re gay, you should be this way,” Bables said during a Zoom conference. “So when Direk Perci and Direk Jun offered this to me, sabi namin ni Tito Boy [Abunda, his manager], ang ganda nito, gawin natin. Ang ganda ng gustong iparating ng kwento.”

Keempee de Leon, on the other hand, was someone Intalan had always been a fan of. “I needed a father that even if he was gay and flamboyant, may puso. That had to come across clearly. It’s a caring, loving father. You can’t question how he is as a father because he has dialogue na hindi madaling tanggapin like, ‘Hindi ka straight, bakla ka.’ Kung hindi maganda ang pag-handle, pwede ka mainis sa character. But because it’s Keempee, mamahalin mo.”

“With Katya, I was also happy she said yes kasi kailangan namin laruin yung babaeng bakla pero nanay pa rin. Keempee’s character fell in love with this woman, so obviously, minahal niya. Pero nasa mundo siya ng bading – bakit hindi siya umalis? Kailangan matawid yun eh kung bakit hindi siya umaalis. And Katya exudes that persona na masayahin and charismatic, just like the rest of the family members.”

No such thing as typecast

Intalan said working with his “Mahal Kita, Beksman” cast was such a joy with actors giving more than what he imagined.

“Kempee and Christian, and actually everybody in the cast, they know where they are in the script. They know the purpose of a scene. So when they adlib, walang instance na nadiskaril yung eksena. Tama lang sa flow, tama yung bato.”

He continued, “One of Christian’s adlibs was in the volleyball scene. He knows that the point of the scene is over, isang hirit na lang ang kailangan. Alam niya paano ipasok na hindi hahaba ng masyado yung eksena. Same with Keempee, may hinirit siya sa isang scene na tawang-tawa kaming lahat, at tama lang din yung pasok. Hindi nakabagal.”

Asked why he has been so effective in gay roles, Bables says, “I guess the preparation that I did for ‘Die Beautiful’, nagagamit ko pa rin sa roles na binibigay sa akin ng IdeaFirst. Hinuhugot ko lang siya, iniiba ko lang yung characterization. But the core kung paano ko binuo si Barbs, si Samuel Panti, Darna, and now Dali, are the same.”

Admitting that he also initially feared being boxed into LGBTQ roles, he later on realized that’s it’s all about the profession’s purpose.

“There are those who say, ‘Ah si Christian Bables, typecasted na.’ But as an actor, I myself don’t believe in typecasting. Although I went through that phase where I felt afraid that I might not be given other roles that I know kaya ko gampanan.”

“But habang nagma-mature ako dito sa industriya, I realized there’s no such thing as typecasting for as long as binibigyan ka ng mga makabuluhang character na pwede kang makatulong through your craft – I think that’s our main objective. So kahit na ipis o tutubi pa yan, game lang.”

“Nakakatuwa kasi pinagkakatiwalaan ako ng mga character na tingin daw ng mga tao na gumagawa ng project na yun na iilan lang kami na merong lakas ng loob at buong puso sa pagganap ng ganoong mga roles. I feel so honored. I’m excited what will happen in the future, kung saan man ako dalhin ng karerang ito,” he added.

Describing him as a down-to-earth personality without an air of arrogance that was rare in the industry, de Leon said he was proud of Bables for being “such a good actor.”

“As an old-timer, there are only few in his age range that can portray these kinds of roles well,” said the son of industry veteran Joey de Leon.

When audiences walk out of theaters, Intalan hopes it sparks further conversations on long-steeped biases.

“And I’m talking not only among straight people but also within the LGBT community. For example, ‘Lalaking lalaki ang itsura niya, nakakagulat naman na mahilig siya mag-crochet’…Why do we always need to judge?,” he said.” Lawakan niyo ang pag-iisip niyo because you don’t know how they grew up, or what they’re going through.

Bables added, “Hopefully while watching the film, they realize we should no longer gender-stereotype while laughing their lungs out.”

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