Ever since Nora Aunor came back to the Philippines a couple of months ago, I’ve been wanting to get in touch with her, to reconnect and make up for lost time (she has spent more than five years in “forced or self-imposed exile” in the States). The last time we talked at great length was when I interviewed her for my book on Sampaguita Pictures.
This time around, my chance to finally talk to Nora came when I heard that my friend and TV-theater colleague, Leo Rialp, had been tapped to play an important role in Nora’s comeback miniseries for TV5.
I requested our mutual friend Rito to contact Leo and ask him if we (and another dear friend, “top Noranian” Andy) could visit him at the production’s location shoot in Taal, Batangas. Happily, Leo immediately said yes.
So, last Monday, September 12, we piled into Rito’s van (with my peripatetic pooch, Casey) and merrily went on our way to Taal. We were on “Nora uppers” or a “Guy high” as we went on what we sensed would turn out to be quite an interesting and even memorable trip.
When we got to Taal, we headed for its huge Basilica (the biggest in South Asia, as a line in our Marian musical, “Birhen ng Caysasay,” proudly proclaimed). Yes, all three of us were diehard fans of Taal, having been involved in the musical about the holy Patroness of the place, which the famous Taaleño sculptor, Roman Orlina, produced some years ago.
Near the Basilica, we saw some air-conditioned tents that had been set up for the TV5’s production’s cast and crew. We caught sight of Leo right away (he’s 6’2”, silver-haired and therefore impossible to miss!) – but, no Nora.
Yes, Leo revealed, he heard that she was “around,” but he would have to double-check. Fine with us. We invited him to lunch and spent the next hour or so shooting the breeze about “this and that and Dr. Seuss’ hat,” as is our wont whenever we get together.
From Leo’s beamingly shared notes on the production, we got the heartening feeling that Mario O’Hara’s miniseries would turn out to be a fine production, a comeback vehicle worthy of the guest Nora Aunor.
In the month-long miniseries, she plays the widow of a beloved mayor (Bembol Roco) who is convinced to run for governor by a crafty political “kingmaker” (Leo), who hopes to manipulate her for his own purposes—but the relatively inexperienced and “malleable” Nora surprises him by fending off his importuning. Hey, that sounds like a really promising modern-day political morality play.
Cherry on top
Leo’s “insider” narrative had boosted our spirits so much that we felt that our trip to Taal was already a success – but, of course, our “visit” with Nora would still be the cherry on top of our yummy Peach Melba dessert!
Well, after our long lunch, we got our yummy cherry – and more. At long last, when we got back to Nora’s tent, the superstar soon joined us – and our little universe “exploded” with the glittering and heady impact of her unique superstar power and charisma.
It’s really quite amazing how a petite, middle-aged star like Nora can light up a room with her mere presence. Even when she isn’t performing and “on,” her presence is quietly luminous and incandescent, reminding us why screen celebrities are called “stars.”
Nora and I have always been fond of each other, “despite everything,” so she rushed to embrace me and even sat on my lap – pa-baby-baby, as is her wont. She whispered some off-the-record “sweet somethings” into my ear that I promised I would attend to, posthaste, then the conversation became more general, with Andy, Rito and Leo enthusiastically participating in it.
I was surprised to see that Nora looked particularly good and in “fighting trim” for her month-long shoot and comeback. Outside the tent, it was similarly heartening to note that most of the fans waiting for hours to catch a glimpse of the Superstar were teenagers.
If even they could get excited by her, decades after the height of her stellar career, then her comeback could turn out to be a singular success.
Our visit with Nora lasted only 30 minutes, because we didn’t want to tire her before her afternoon shoot, but our “quality” interlude was made truly memorable by her sincere friendship, and the revitalized creative energy she exuded.
She’s back! Nora Aunor is really back with a bang – where she belongs.