Thursday, October 30, 2008

Meeting Judy Ann Santos in a French Gallery

Oct. 29, 2008 -
She was wearing a red dress and black heels. When she entered through the front door of the Alliance Total Gallery, one would have thought that one was already a part of a shoot for her latest TV endorsement of a slimming supplement. Almost everyone did look her way. It was Judy Ann Santos, the country's most recognizable actress to date who could cry copious tears at the drop of a hat. She arrived to support the exhibit of her fiance: fellow actor, host, and TV model Ryan Agoncillo.

The exhibit, titled "EPSON PRO: Partnership of Art and Technology," showcases EPSON printer-reproduced works of eight of the country's premier photographers and graphic designers such as BenCab, Bien Bautista, George Tapan, Jun de Leon, Quincy Castillo, Drew Europeo, Robert Alejandro, including Agoncillo. Two of Agoncillo's photographs were on exhibit: "Pagsulong," a 7 by 10.5 color photograph and "Tagak," a 9 x 6 color photograph. Agoncillo had previously exhibited the two works at the Meralco theater lobby during the premier of Santos' movie "Ploning," and was shot in Palawan during the filming of the said movie.

Judy Ann Santos had visibly become sexier and had that confidence about her. She initially had Ryan's hands locked in hers but was soon introduced to and engaged in a conversation with the tall National Artist for visual arts Bencab himself. Bencab, later, also was seen being photographed with her in front of his works: "Concealed/Revealed 1" and "Concealed/Revealed II". Seeing that Bencab did a photo-op with "the" Judy Ann Santos, who were we not to follow suit? But, of course, in such a French-y gathering, our group reined in our excitement and decided to wait a little bit longer for her to mingle around, and only made our move when we spotted her next in front of Agoncillo's work.

I personally have respect for Judy Ann Santos now, especially for producing "Ploning" herself, and because it was a noteworthy film. One can forgive her other films, but "Ploning" definitely merits a place in Philippine cinema history. And I was, myself, visibly glad that I finally did meet her in the flesh that night, a night beautifully imprinted on my mind.

*The exhibit, organized by EXTANT PR SYSTEMS, INC and headed by Ms. EVAN CARIAGA (tel. nos. 527-0478 / 536-5720), runs from Oct. 29 to Nov. 4, 2008. Portion of the exhibit sales will be donated to the GMA Kapuso Foundation.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Fantasia Barrino's "I Believe"

I have to admit, I still get goosebumps every time I watch Fantasia's performance during the American Idol's finals. The song was hers through and through. This song was co-written by former American Idol contestant Tamyra Gray.

Watch it with me again :)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Swagat Indian Cuisine restaurant Celebrates Diwali Festival

Oct. 24 - The thought of experiencing my first Diwali Festival in an Indian restaurant was too good an experience to pass up. So, one Friday night, I braved the traffic going to Makati to head to the Swagat Indian Cuisine restaurant.

"Swagat," I will soon learn is a Hindi word, which means "welcome." From the facade of the restaurant, one would have thought that the lettering of the restaurant's name was too plain-looking to merit attention. But inside, one's spirit is easily lifted by the vari-hued colors of the interior starting with the foil chains that criss-cross the ceiling, the tie-dyed cloths that line the corners of the walls, posters and small pieces of mirrors that flicker here and there, which all seemed to dance along the music coming from the modern Indian singers' videos being played on the television, and made warmer by the technicolor Christmas lights that cascade down the front glass window, and frame all posters in the walls as well. In one of the walls, one reads the cutout letters announcing "Diwali Festival."

Deepavali, or Diwali, is a major Indian festival, and is celebrated by Hindus, Jains and Sikhs across the globe as the "Festival of Lights," where the lights signify the victory of good over the evil within every individual. The word "deepavali" comes also from the lighted rows (avali) of lamps (deepa) that greeted King Rama of Ayodhya after a 14-year exile in the forest. Today, Diwali is celebrated on the first day of the lunar Kartika month, which comes in the month of October or November.

"So, there is no exact date for it each year, but this year it falls on Oct. 28" explains Komal Khanchandani, who proudly says that she is the owner, manager and cook of the restaurant. "If I were in India, I would have celebrated this event with my family but since I'm in the Philippines now, I am celebrating it yearly my Filipino friends and everyone who eats here." And Khanchandani further explains that the festival is akin to the Christian's Christmas event where everyone eats good food, buys new dress, and gives gifts to one another. The one special mark of the event, she says, is the giving of sweets to all who celebrate the said occasion. During this time, too, her restaurant gives discounts to her customers.

Khanchandani, or Komal to her friends, arrived in Manila from India with her husband Sanjay in 1981. Finding that there's not enough restaurant offering true Indian home-cooked meals in the country, and prodded in part her husband's expatriate Indian friends, they initially put up Sangam, a hole-in-the-wall Indian carinderia in Makati. But seeing their growing clientele, in 2003, the couple finally decided to open Swagat Indian Cuisine in a bigger location in Rada. Since then, the restaurant has been opened to the public from 11am to 11pm and foot traffic has been nonstop that most diners would call in advance to reserve seats, especially at meal times.

For that evening, Khanchandani had to excuse herself at once as she was to cook it all: for appetizers, there was mixed pakora or deep fried sliced onions, chilies and potatoes rolled in chickpeas flour. I dipped one pakora, which tasted like an upscale empanada, in mint sauce and was pleasantly surprised by its interesting flavour in my mouth. I also ate pappadom masala, which is a thin deep fried crisp lentil wafer served with onion and tomato bits, and which is definitely better than nachos. I became an instant fan, too, of the bhel puri, puffed rice bits (like noodle bits) served with various chutneys, and wonderfully crunchy. For the main course, we were served the machi palak, or fish cooked with spinach, and chicken kadai, with a big chili on top of it. This was accompanied by two plates of rice meal: the shrimp biryani, and the unbelievably hot methi matter pullow, which is a bit green, colored by the fenugreek leaves, with green peas. Wonderfully taming all the spiciness in my food is my glass of strawberry lassi or sweetened yogurt drink flavoured with milk and strawberry. For dessert, we had the privilege of tasting Khanchandani's much sought-after homemade ice cream or kulfi. Khanchandani says it takes all of five hours to make it and yes, it's easily one of the restaurant's bestsellers. So, I took my sweet time eating my kulfi! Biting into my last spoonful of the ice cream, in my mind, I saw several arrows of lights, lights of happiness, indeed! Happy Diwali Festival everyone!

Swagat Indian Cuisine restaurant is located in FCC Building on Rada Street, Legaspi Village, Makati (tel. 752-5669).

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Love of Siam (Rak Haeng Siam) in Cinemanila 2008

I just had to write this down. I was so taken by the film although it's all of two and a half hours running time. As part of the Cinemanila 2008 lineup of films, I watched Love of Siam (Rak Haeng Siam), a Thai film written and directed by Chukiat Sakveerakul. The last gay-themed film that I liked was Chansons d'Amour and now, I think, Love of Siam is going to be my all time favorite gay-themed film.

Love of Siam stars Mario Maurer (of German and Chinese descent and oh so heartachingly cute) who plays Tong and the equally charming Witwisit "Pitchy" Hiranyawongkul who plays pianist/composer/singer Mew.

I did some googling on Love of Siam and found out that the film is a first of sorts. At 150 minutes, the film is markedly longer than most Thai films, and another is that it is a drama film, which is rare in the Thai industry, which mainly produces horror, comedy, action and (heterosexual) teen romance films. And, of course, it is gay-themed though nothing hinted at that fact in its promotional posters in Thailand. Director Sakveerakul said that this was intentional as he did not want to limit the audience of the film to gay audiences. His instincts proved him right. Released in Thai cinemas on November 22, 2007, and opening on 146 screens, the film was a commercial hit earning a total of US$1,305,125 on its third week, and earned good reviews as well from the critics. It also dominated Thailand's 2007 film awards season, winning the Best Picture category in all major national film award events, including the Thailand National Film Association Awards, Starpics Magazine's Starpics Awards, the Bangkok Critics Assembly Awards, Star Entertainment Awards. And more importantly, Love of Siam is now also Thailand's official entry to the Best Foreign Language Film for the 81st Oscars Awards.

But to go back into why I sooo loved the film, I just had to say that director Chukiat Sakveerakul had such a good material in his hands, a great amount of sensibility both in dialogues and direction (showing Thai culture as it is today), and he was blessed with very good actors as well. He has shown not only the "young" love between two teenager males but also the love of a mother for her lost daughter, for her husband, showing as well an unrequited love...of a young girl falling for a gay friend, and of love on the friendship level. Sakveerakul's unraveling of the story is so much like the special gift giving style he showed at the onset of the film where Tong initially gave a piece of paper to Mew. Mew finds out that that piece of paper leads to another clue in a piece of paper that leads to a part of a gift, then another paper that has a clue that leads to another piece of the gift until one finds the gift itself.

At the end of watching the film, the Filipino viewers that night in Cinemanila 2008(which were all so openly appreciative and affected by the film judging by their reactions during the entire run of the film) were gifted with the beauty of the story of the film itself. And gays in the country, no matter how jaded or highly-sexed, I'm sure, would, in their hearts of hearts, find themselves awashed clean, remembering a special love in their lives, re-awakened anew by how strange and wonderful love could really be upon watching this beautiful beautiful gift of a film.

My favorite part would be that bed scene where Mew explains the source of his loneliness to Tong-- about his fear of losing a loved one and the pain that goes with loving that person. At the same time, Mew has learned to accept that it is impossible for anyone to go through life without loving anyone. Then Tong enfolds Mew in his arms and lets Mew to rest partly on his chest.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A Visit to The Rafe Store (Rafe Totengco) in Greenbelt

I finally had the chance to visit the Greenbelt (Makati city) branch of bag designer/maven Rafe (pronounced Ra-fee) Totengco. Yes, Rafe Totengco is a Filipino (raised in Bacolod) who previously designed for Schizo, a clothing line under Sari-Sari Store prior to his leaving for New York in 1989 to study at New York's Fashion Institute and Technology. The Rafe Store opened in March 2008 and I finally did get to see his bags up close on my birthday. Of course, I had a grand time doing so with the helpful assistance of amiable staff Mitch. Rafe Totengco has been based in New York for almost 18 years now and his bag creations have been seen in the arms and hands of Paris Hilton, Jessica Alba, Eva Longoria, Mischa Barton, Lindsay Lohan, Giselle Bundchen, Adriana Lima,among others. In Rafe Totengco's recent blog, I read that he did a collaboration with Amy Smilovic, the designer of Tibi, on a limited edition collection of bags. If only for his bags, I would have loved being a girl! :) I wish I'd bump into Rafe Totengco himself on his next visit in the country.