Bianca Umali’s new TV series shatters stereotype of Badjao as mere beggars
When she was a kid, Bianca Umali used to dream of becoming a mermaid. Playing the strong-willed Badjao girl Sahaya in her latest TV project is the closest she gets to being one.
“I have always been drawn to the water, that’s why I have a personal connection with my character, who loves the sea and gets life from it,” Bianca told reporters in a recent interview for “Sahaya,” her upcoming drama series that starts airing tonight on GMA 7.
The actress had to undergo free-diving training as part of her extensive preparation for the role.
Directed by Zig Dulay, “Sahaya” follows the story of the titular character, who doggedly rises above hardships and discrimination, in her journey toward education, success and self-acceptance.
Though the story has a romance aspect with Sahaya’s childhood friend Ahmad (Miguel Tanfelix), there is more to it than that.
It will also touch on the different cultural and societal issues the Badjao people face, like their displacement due to poverty and armed conflict in Mindanao, intercultural marriages and the exploitation of their ancestral waters.
“We want to raise awareness and educate viewers as to who the Badjao people are,” said Bianca, who hopes to shatter the Badjao stereotype of being mere beggars who roam the streets during holidays.
“I’m amazed by the simplicity with which they live their lives. They treasure the little things they have and will fight for their culture.”
She considers “Sahaya” to be her biggest project yet. The pressure is immense, she admitted. But Bianca hopes to channel it into something productive.
“We have consultants. But I also do my own research. I studied their language and their dance; how they dress, move and talk,” she said.
“I don’t want to just rely on the creative team—I want to treat the material with care,” Bianca added.
Asked to describe “BiGuel”—her love team with Miguel—in one word, it would be “effortless,” she said.
The two actors, only 19 and 20, have been working as a pair for seven years now, and practically grew up together.
As a result, the connection Bianca and Miguel have cultivated comes out naturally onscreen.
“We already know each other well. We see each other every day at work. We know how to approach or talk to each other. We know what each other’s likes and dislikes are,” she said.
Shoulder to lean on
“Sometimes, we would call each other randomly… if we need a shoulder to lean on,” related Bianca, who has been close friends with Miguel since working on the fantasy-drama series “Paroa: Ang Kuwento ni Mariposa” in 2012.
“He would call me and just tell me about the places he had been to abroad,” she added.
Things weren’t always smooth sailing, Bianca said. But for the Kapuso star, there’s no misunderstanding proper communication can’t fix.
“[If we have a misunderstanding,] we always think that those things would eventually come to pass. We don’t want to sacrifice or lose the relationship and the things we have built together, because of whatever conflict,” she said.
But despite being comfortable with each other, Bianca and Miguel know that they can’t be too complacent—there’s still room for growth.
“To this day, we discover new things about each other, even if we’re just doing mall shows,” pointed out the actress, who insisted that she and Miguel never tire of working together.
“If the decision on who we work with were up to us,” she added, “we would always choose each other.”