Freeman Cebu Entertainment

Shayne Sava, Althea Ablan of ‘AraBella’ stake claim as Afternoon Drama Princesses

Vanessa A. Balbuena - The Freeman

CEBU, Philippines —  Veteran co-actors of Shayne Sava and Althea Ablan were one in declaring that the titular stars of “AraBella” have what it takes to go far in the industry, citing their acting range, depth, and work ethics to be quite impressive for their age.

The young actresses top bill GMA Network’s newest Afternoon Prime drama as motherless daughters who are dealt very different cards: Sava as Ara is the kind-hearted adopted child, while Ablan’s Bella is the scheming real daughter staking her rightful claim.

Premiering yesterday, “AraBella” airs weekdays at 3:25 p.m. on GMA Afternoon Prime and Pinoy Hits. It follows loving mother, Roselle – played by Camille Prats in an acting comeback after a five-year hiatus – who searches for her lost daughter. It’s been 10 years since her child was kidnapped, but Roselle holds on to the belief that they will be reunited.

With the help of a television show, Roselle meets Ara, a teenager kidnapped during childhood and is now searching for her real mother. Their narratives match, giving both hope that they will finally bring their family back together. Amid their blossoming relationship, DNA tests reveal they are not blood-related. Still, Roselle decides to adopt Ara.

But things change when the real daughter, Bella, returns. After being kidnapped when she was a child, Bella was thrown into misfortune under the care of her deceitful adoptive grandparents, played by Nova Villa as Lola Madonna and Ronnie Lazaro as Lolo Hadji. She also learned to become a con artist in order to survive.

“AraBella” hopes to have viewers glued on how Roselle tries to accept Bella who is now a completely different person, and what will become of the bond between Roselle and Ara.

“I feel very grateful to be entrusted by the network. My hope is that I don’t lose their trust, as I vow to give my 100 percent best at all times,” Ablan, 18, says in a Zoom conference.

While afternoon viewers remember her in “Prima Donnas” as the feisty one who stood as defender of her sisters, Bella’s main goal is to fight for herself. She explains, “Sarili niya lang pinaglalaban niya dahil meron siyang gustong makuha. Like Ara, hinahanap lang din niya ang pagmamahal ng isang ina. I really love my character actually, especially after I found the right way to attack the role.”

For 20-year-old Sava, being tagged as the network’s new Princesses of Afternoon Drama along with Ablan is heartwarming. “Nakakataba ng puso that they appreciate what we do and they see our talent. We will turn the pressure as motivation to improve and be better in our next projects,” she says.

The ultimate female survivor of Starstruck’s season 7 describes her scenes in “AraBella” as more extreme than in her previous shows “Raising Mamay” and “Legal Wives” – she gets submerged inside a water drum, for one – but is thankful to experience on screen what is probably far-fetched from happening to her in real life.

“My character’s journey is more of a rollercoaster ride, she goes through a lot. The ending was the most challenging.”

Humbling experience

Acting came easier for both with the help of their senior cast mates, including Prats, Villa, Lazaro, along with Wendell Ramos and Alfred Vargas.

Sava shares, “They are such giving actors. Ate Cams has such expressive eyes. Once you look at her eyes, you can already feel the emotions. Maiiyak ka na agad. It’s a very humbling experience. When we also have scenes with Tita Nova and Tito Ronnie, it doesn’t feel like work. They exchange witty banter that’s not in the script, and oftentimes, I have to stop myself from laughing.”

Ablan talks of the same experience with Prats, saying it becomes easier to pull out the necessary emotions when she’s in a scene with the “Sarah ang Munting Prinsesa” star.

“Off-cam we’re very talkative, but when it’s time to do a take, we’re in character. Nakakahugot talaga ako sa kanya kaya mabilis na lang, hindi ako nahihirapan.”

“With Tita Nova and Tito Ronnie, I was starstruck with them the first day. When we did a take, ang light lang ng set, I didn’t feel any pressure. We talk about many things off-cam, especially Tita Nova who has so many stories.  Kada eksena, tatawa muna kami bago mag-take. Ang hirap pigilin lalo na bungisngisin ako. I actually miss them a lot now.”

Playing antagonist in “AraBella” is Klea Pineda as Gwen, the young and cunning stepmother of Roselle. Co-star Alfred Vargas gave her kudos for giving justice to her villainess, calling her an imposing presence onscreen.

“It’s my first time to be a kontrabida and surprisingly, I enjoyed it. I really took the time na kabisaduhin kung paano ba dapat ang pagiging kontrabida,” she says. “Ayoko kasi sana as much as possible ma-stereotype na pang-hapon na kontrabida. Ibang klase sana na kontrabida ang mapakita ko.”

Abdul Raman is Justin, a nerdy guy who will become Ara’s best friend. This is his third project with Sava. In “AraBella,” he says the challenge was playing a guy who was shy around a girl he likes, as this was the opposite of him in real life.

Saviour Ramos as Ed is a blind follower who will do everything for Bella whom he loves. The son of Wendell Ramos shares that knowing Ablan from way back made it initially uncomfortable for him to act with her. He was thankful to have his dad on set as he would always have someone to turn to when unsure of how to tackle a scene.

“For example I would ask, ‘Pa kung ikaw ito, paano mo gagawin?’” he says. “So we do script reading together and those are one of the bonding moments and lessons that I will always cherish.”

“I was surprised and natuwa ako sa pagiging seryoso ng anak ko sa trabaho. I saw his focus,” the elder Ramos pointed out with pride. “I think that’s the advantage na napunta siya sa Sparkle, sa tamang management.”

No prima donnas

Vargas, who has a full-length part this time after guest stints in recent dramas, expressed his admiration for the show’s two female leads. The Quezon City councilor says, “Bilib ako kay Shayne and Althea. Sobrang professional and galing. Huwag kayong magugulat dahil makikita niyo ang pag-usbong ng dalawang drama princesses sa hapon. Malayo ang mararating nila.”

“Si Shayne kasi, anak-anakan ko siya dito. You can feel the sincerity in her acting na kahit wala sa script, napapaiyak na rin ako. Si Althea naman, her acting range, ang dami niyang kaya gawin. Kaka-18 lang niya, pero ang lalim na ng acting niya.”

It is also his first time to act with Prats, and he likewise poured her with praise. “When it comes to Camille, it’s a given na magaling siya. The first time I saw her on set, starstruck na ako, kasi Princess Sarah yan. Our first scene together, tumama yung mata namin sa isa’t-isa, and grabe…automatic basta Camille Prats, isa sa mga magaling na aktres ng kanyang henerasyon.”

Villa says there was definitely no prima donna among the cast, making “AraBella” a delightful set to report to.

“Pagka ganoon ang kasama mo, mababait, bungisngis, magagaling na artista, talagang you will miss them.  In the three months we worked together, we developed a close relationship,” says the veteran actress. “Mababait at magagaling. Nakikita ko na makakamit ng mga batang ito ang ambisyon nila.”

Parents searching for lost children have been mined time and again in television dramas, but for director Adolf Alix Jr., “AraBella” offers something new with how Roselle’s journey challenges traditional notions of motherhood and the family system.

“The experience of Roselle and her search are unique. In the process of her search, there’s growth in her character when she meets Ara and Bella,” says Alix. “At the heart of every good story, for Filipinos, the family is very important. What sets this apart is the journey of the three females at the center of the story.”

Associate director Linnet Zurbano adds that “AraBella” imparts how one can be a mother to someone they did not give birth to, as long as there is connection and sincere concern.

“I feel that many can relate to that especially that in the present generation, a lot of women in their 40s choose not to become biological mothers, but have someone in their lives whom they treat as their own.”


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