[This story was originally published in the July 2006 issue of StarStudio Magazine. In honor of Cherie Gil’s passing, we look back on one of her greatest hits—the movie that made her an icon—and certainly one of the most beloved Filipino films of all time.]
Both the scene and the words have entered the realm of legend: a seething Lavinia (Cherie Gil) confronts Dorina (Sharon Cuneta) at a party, then spits, with venom, what has arguably become the single most famous phrase in contemporary Philippine cinema: “You’re nothing but a second-rate, trying-hard copycat!” For a vicious coup de grace, Lavinia reaches for a drinking glass then splashes water on Dorina’s face.
For that scene alone, the drama “Bituing Walang Ningning”—which opened in theaters on Valentine’s Day in 1985—has remained one of the most popular movies of our time. Produced by Viva Films and directed by Emmanuel H. Borlaza with an uncredited Leroy Salvador, it boasted a powerhouse acting ensemble composed of Cuneta, Gil, Christopher de Leon, Jay Ilagan, Tommy Abuel, Chanda Romero, Lorli Villanueva, and Joel Torre. The story, based on the komiks serial by Nerissa Cabral, told of a diehard fan’s (Dorina) rise to become a popular singer and, ultimately, a rival to her idol (Lavinia).
Like that water-throwing face-off, “Bituing Walang Ningning” made a tremendous splash in the box-office and reaped a few praises from critics. Proof of its great appeal: it is one of Viva’s all-time top-selling videos and the theme song composed by Willy Cruz is one of the most popular tunes on videoke.
The late Mina del Rosario, wife of Viva Films big boss Vic del Rosario, was the brains behind the project. Associate producer Trina Dayrit, a director of teleseryes (“Krystala,”
“Sa Piling Mo”), recalls how Mina pushed her to read the komiks before filming started. “Ate Mina called me into her office and dumped a whole pile on my lap.”
“Bituing Walang Ningning” was really intended as a vehicle for Sharon and Cherie. Trina reveals that it was supposed to be a stepping stone to launch Cherie as a solo artist. Indeed, it established the dusky, lithe actress as a formidable name in movies but in the kontrabida mold. Trina says, “Things started happening for her in a different way so medyo naudlot (yung launching niya). But after that, Sharon and Cherie went on to do ‘Sana’y Wala Nang Wakas’ and so on and so forth.”
“From then on, I wanted her to be my partner always,” Sharon says about Cherie, gushing. “And up to this day, 2006 na, there’s nobody like Cherie Gil. I cannot find another kontrabida like her.”
Sharon—then newly married to Gabby Concepcion—was pregnant with KC when she was shooting “Bituing Walang Ningning.” “I was shooting ‘til my seventh month and I was promoting until my eighth,” she says.
As such, there was a concerted effort by the entire production to hide Sharon’s growing tummy. Director of photography Romy Vitug recalls: “Kapag shinu-shoot namin siya, laging may takip sa katawan. Laging may foreground, either bulaklak o basket. Basta pag naglalakad siya, laging may nadadaanan. Halos lahat ng shots ni Sharon, half-body.”
For scenes where it was impossible to hide the tummy with a prop, a body double had to be brought in. “They got pa a double who turned out to be pregnant also!” Sharon herself reveals. “So they got a niece of mine who looked uncannily like me—for a while lang, for a few scenes.”
To Sharon herself, however, one of the biggest disadvantages of filming the movie while pregnant was not exactly the difficulty finding flattering clothes. Instead, it was: “Hindi ko mayakap si Boyet (de Leon) nang karapat-dapat.”
That immortal phrase
A bit of trivia: the line “You’re nothing but a second-rate, trying-hard copycat!” was not in the screenplay by Orlando Nadres.
“Maning Borlaza line yan!” clarifies Manny Morfe, the film’s production designer. “Kanya talaga yun.Added niya yun. Ora-oradang ginawa ni Direk bago kami mag-take,” Manny stresses.
When asked if the filmmakers had any inkling about the impact this scene would have on movie history, Trina can only laugh, “Alam mo, wala.” She attributes its power to Cherie’s intense delivery. “You know Cherie had a strong screen presence there. She’s a strong kontrabida, eh.”
Stroke of (bad) luck
Another challenge to the project: more than halfway through filming, Direk Maning would suffer a stroke right on location.
“Nagsi-set-up kami sa isang night club early morning nang atakihin si Maning,” says Manny. It was the production designer who brought his director to the emergency room of the old Medical City, and recalls how in spite of his condition, the director was still thinking of his movie. Barely able to talk, he told Manny to tell the producers to get Leroy Salvador to take over.
Leroy, who’s done “Mga Batang Yagit” and the post-wedding Sharon-Gabby project “Sa Hirap at Ginhawa” for Viva, was assigned to direct the unfinished sequences of “Bituing Walang Ningning.” “We thought he would only be directing until Direk Maning recovered,” Trina recalls. “But as it happened, he had to finish the film.”
Sharon speaks very fondly of the director who took over, and explains why Leroy’s name is not to be found in the credits. “You know, Papang (Leroy) is from the old school of decent moviemakers,” she says. “He didn’t want his name to be in the credits. He said, ‘No, it’s Maning’s movie.’”
Direk Maning Borling eventually recuperated and even stood as one of KC’s ninongs at her baptism.
Although only one-fourth of the entire picture is Direk Leroy’s, the guy made very special contributions. He had a different take on handling Sharon’s pregnancy.
“He stopped covering my tummy with a lampshade, or a bookshelf, or a flower vase. He just removed all the stunts. Basta pinakita na lang. (His rationale) was, ‘Alam mo, ang fans ni Sharon at ni Gabby, they love the couple so much, it’s exciting for them to see yung tummy ni Sharon na lumalaki na.’”
He also wanted to treat the ending differently. “(It) was Leroy Salvador’s execution,” Sharon emphasizes. “And sorry if I’m biased but I also heard from other people—kahit hindi Sharonian—na it has gone down as one of the best endings in movie history.”
“Additional treatment ni Leroy sa sabitan ng sampaguita lei ni Dorina si Lavinia,” offers Manny Morfe. “No matter what, pinagkakautangan ni Dorina si Lavinia. In-inject ‘yon ni Leroy. Ikinuwento nya sa akin yun (bago niya i-execute). Nangingilabot pa ako pag naaalala ko ‘yon.”
Sharon wouldn’t have wanted the ending done any other way. “Oh yes, I loved it!” she exclaims, recalling the scene. “I love the fact that, you know, Lavinia was getting what she wanted which was really stardom, more than Nico (Christopher de Leon), and that Dorina was getting the love of her life and giving up her long-time dream and giving it back to her idol whom she really felt deserved it anyway.”
[With additional interview by Leah Nemil San Jose.]