It wasn’t Nora Aunor’s first time in Tawi-Tawi. Still she felt seduced by the island’s pristine beauty.
The singer-actress, known as the country’s Superstar, recalled that she briefly visited the island on the country’s southernmost tip years ago.
“Para sa kampanya ni Erap (former President Joseph Estrada),” she recounted. “Pero sandali lang. Hindi ako nagtagal.”
For her latest Tawi-Tawi “adventure,” she totally “immersed” herself, staying over two weeks, from April 14 to 30, for the shooting of Brillante Mendoza’s latest work, “Thy Womb.”
Mendoza won best director for “Kinatay” at the 62nd Cannes Film Festival in 2009.
“Thy Womb” is scheduled to premiere at an A-list international film fest.
The indie film marks her big-screen comeback after eight years, Aunor said. She had appeared in indie productions like Suzette Ranillo’s “Care Home” and Joey Gonzales’ “Ingrata” (both in 2006) during her stay in the United States. But “Thy Womb” is her biggest film since Maryo J. de los Reyes’ “Naglalayag” in 2004.
“Na-miss ko ang pag-arte,” she told Inquirer Entertainment in an interview held upon her return to Manila on May 1.
She said that she hit it off with Mendoza, who shares her artistic principles. “Magaling talaga si Direk Brillante. Ang gusto niya natural ang acting. Wala masyadong dialogue pero taos-puso.”
In the movie, she plays a midwife who serves the seafaring Badjao and other indigenous tribes in Tawi-Tawi.
“Bilang kumadrona, ako lang ang nagpapaanak sa mga nanay doon. For the first two days, nag-aral kami na mag-sagwan at mag-habi ng banig,” she recounted.
The experience opened her eyes to both the promising and disheartening realities in that part of Mindanao. “Mababait ang mga tao doon. Talagang inalagaan kami. Nakita ko kung gaano kaganda ang Tawi-Tawi. Peaceful naman. Naging biktima lang sila ng mga maling balita,” she explained. “Sabi nila may mga planong gawin itong tourist destination.”
Their hosts, Gov. Sadikul Sahali and his wife Juana and daughter Vice Gov. Ruby Sahali and son Nurjay Sahali, assisted by the Philippine Marines and the Philippine National Police, made sure that the entire cast and crew remained safe during their stay, Aunor said.
She plans to return their kindness by asking friends from the industry to help the people in the small villages where they shot the film—specifically, Sitangkai, known as the “Venice of the Philippines.”
“Nag-shooting kami doon sa mga bahay na nakatayo sa dagat,” she said. “Gusto ko sanang mabigyan sila ng isang health center, sa tulong ng mga kaibigan natin dito sa Maynila.”
Playing a midwife, she saw with her own eyes the residents’ most pressing needs. “Kailangan nila ng gamot. ’Pag may manganganak, kailangan pang mag-bangka para makapunta sa ospital,” she said.
As expected, she and her co-stars — Bembol Roco, Lovi Poe and Mercedes Cabral—were mobbed by the residents.
“Natutuwa sila na nabisita namin sila at gumawa kami ng isang pelikula tungkol sa buhay nila … para naman malaman ng Pilipinas at ng buong mundo ang tunay nilang kalagayan,” she pointed out.
Aunor said she and her co-stars had no qualms about roughing it in the southern province. “Walang pa-istaran. Pantay-pantay kaming lahat. Parang kaming magkakapatid sa set. Sama-sama sa hirap at ginhawa,” she said. “Nakisama pati ang panahon. Kung kailangan sa shoot ang ulan, umulan. Pag kailangan maaraw, umaraw!”
She remembered traveling by boat for almost 14 hours to reach one location, Turtle Islands. “Doon na kami natulog sa bangka,” she said.
Poe said that the Superstar took pains not to intimidate her co-workers. Cabral agreed: “She’s down-to-earth. Motherly. I was in my dressing room once, fixing my stuff, and someone knocked.”
When Cabral opened the door, she saw the Superstar holding a bowl of noodle soup. “She gave it to me,” Cabral said. “I was really touched. She made me realize that not all superstars are air-headed snobs. It’s a shame that other so-called stars, some who are not even as big as her, have lousy attitude.”
Aunor said that she enjoyed working with her castmates. “Sabi ko kay Mercedes: Ang dami ko nang anak-anakan. Magagaling na artista sina Mercedes at Lovi. At mababait.”
Although far from Manila, word on the campaign to declare her a National Artist had reached her.
“Natutuwa ako na isa ako sa mga napili. Pero marami pang mas karapat-dapat na parangalan sa ating industriya,” she remarked. “Kung sakaling ibigay sa akin, isa itong malaking karangalan at magpapasalamat ako. Pero kung hindi, matatanggap ko rin.”
Aunor is proud that Filipino filmmakers are making headway abroad. “It’s about time,” she said. “Dapat nga matagal na ’yan. Sana nga magkaisa na tayo at imbes na harangan ay tulungan natin ang isa’t isa na mapansin ang ating mga pelikula sa labas ng Pilipinas.”
Aunor will celebrate her 59th birthday on May 21 in the US.
She is set to leave for Boston on May 19 for her throat surgery on May 23. “Sana nga maging okay na ang boses ko,” she said.