Aga Muhlach in a scene from 'Bagets.' Screengrab
MANILA - As his launching movie, "Bagets" marked many firsts for then 14-year old showbiz newcomer Aga Muhlach. What Muhlach did not realize was that this film about five carefree boys in high school would make him a household name. It would be the start of a long and fruitful career in show business.
Thirty years since it was first released in February 1984, "Bagets" remains a memorable experience for the 44-year-old actor.
"At 14, it was my first movie, hindi mo maiisip 'yung preparations," Muhlach told ABS-CBN Publishing's Maxim Philippines in a 2009 interview marking the film's 25th anniversary. "It was more of kaba lang. Ang una kong concern was the clothes na gagamitin ko sa buong movie. I didn't have enough clothes so I had to shop," he said.
The film's line producer, late talent manager Douglas Quijano, in the same interview recalled his first meeting with a young Muhlach, who had been looking to get his big break in showbiz.
"That was 1984 and I was working as a project coordinator for Regal. I brought it up to Mother Lily [Monteverde, Regal Films producer]. It was going to serve as a launching pad for Aga Muhlach who was brought to me by his father Cheng when he was, I think, 13. I remember asking Aga, 'How old are you?' 'Thirteen.' I told him, 'Come back to me when you're 14.'"
Even as Muhlach returned a year older, production on "Bagets" didn't take off right away, as Monteverde remained unconvinced of the newbie's potential.
"It turned out ayaw ni Mother Lily kay Aga," Quijano said. "So I presented the idea to Vic del Rosaio [of Regal's rival studio that time, Viva Films]."
Jake Tordesillas, the scriptwriter of "Bagets," remembered it was Quijano who came up with the film's title, which clicked with the bosses at Viva. "Naririnig niya sa mga parlor na tawag sa boyfriend ng mga bading. It means 'bata,'" he said.
"Young, fresh, vibrant," Quijano added.
The project was already in pre-production when it underwent a big change, Tordesillas recalled. Viva wanted a light, youth-oriented movie, but director Ishmael Bernal had something different in mind.
"Hindi si Maryo J [delos Reyes] ang dapat magdi-direk dun nung una. Dapat si Ishamel. Excited ako nun kasi it would have been my first time to work with Bernie," Tordesillas said.
"Nagpi-pre-prod na kami nun kaya lang hindi matimpla ni Bernal kasi may pagka-dark 'yung vision niya sa project. Gusto niyang mag-tackle ng male prostitution, drugs. Eh sina Vic del Rosario at Douglas, ang gusto nila fun-oriented lang. Bernal ended up doing 'Bilibid Boys.'"
Delos Reyes, who earlier tackled teen angst in "High School Circa '65," was brought in to carry out Viva's film about "family life, changing attitudes, peer system."
"Kapag bata ka naman, ang pinakamabigat na problema mo siguro 'yung hindi mo mabili 'yung gusto mo. Or it could be romance. 'Yung hindi mo alam kung sino ang sasagutin mo o liligawan mo. Kung mahal ka ba nung gusto mo," delos Reyes said.
Tapped to co-star with Muhlach as teens who form a friendship after getting kicked out and transferring to a less prestigious school were Herbert Bautista, JC Bonin, Raymond Lauchengco, and William Martinez.
"It was not shooting at all," Muhlach said. "It was more of, I was with friends. Herbert was my neighbor dati sa New York (a street in Cubao) where I stayed with my dad for two years. Nagsusunduan kami papunta sa set."
Lauchengco recalled how their on-screen chemistry as fun-loving teens was helped by what was happening behind the camera. "Araw-araw may bagong kalokohan si William. May bagong karate move na tinuturo si JC. May bagong dahilan si Aga kung bakit siya late."
As the premiere night approached, then-showbiz newcomer Muhlach expected a new experience altogether, but recalled not anticipating the level of enthusiasm that met "Bagets."
"Nung premiere night ng Bagets sa Greenhills Theater, naka-stand-by kami sa Club Filipino kasi hindi kami makalabas. Punung-puno ng tao paikot from the Greenhills Theater hanggang sa buong Greenhills area. It was the first time I saw a crowd like that," he said.
"I knew it would click," Quijano added, "but I didn't know it would be phenomenal."
The simple film about five friends became a movie that defined a generation.