Monday, October 15, 2012

Harana (Benito Bautista, 2012)

Ang dalagang Pilipina, parang tala sa umaga
Kung tanawin ay nakaliligaya
May ningning na tangi at dakilang ganda
- Jose Corazon de Jesus

Documentary films are getting noticed here in the Philippines and the rest of the world. The absorbing Senna, about the three-time Formula One champion Ayrton Senna, was a box-office hit in the United Kingdom. It was shown locally during Cine Europa Film Festival 2012. Give Up Tomorrow created quite a loud buzz at this year's Cinemalaya Film Festival that it got a theatrical run in October 2012.

Benito Bautista's Harana also made an impression during the Cinemalaya festival. Audiences, primed up by exposure to Youtube videos and concert/music films such as This Is It and Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, gravitated towards this film because it is stuffed with wonderful harana songs such as Dalagang Pilipina, Iniibig Kita, and Aking Bituin (O Ilaw). But, those songs are only as good as the ones singing them.  

The documentary takes a look at balikbayan Florante Aguilar's search for the best of these haranistas. Aguilar, a classical guitarist oozing with musical chops just like his tukayos Freddie Aguilar and Florante, finds these masters of the lost art of serenade out in the field, along the river, and on the streets. 

Every musical performance by the Harana Kings, composed of Aguilar, tricycle driver Felipe Alonzo, farmer Celestino Aniel, and fisherman Romeo Bergunio, is pure delight. There's a sincere feel to their direct, romantic declarations of love. You'll believe every word emanating from their hearts. Bereft of money to come in flashy cars or to buy expensive gifts, the three proletarian vocalists have only love to offer. They express this love with the help of a sturdy guitar.

If music be the food of love, play on 
- William Shakespeare

There's a memorable segment in this lovely documentary. A young man named Bryan is heads over heels over a schoolmate. The girl seems to be in a relationship but he is adamant to profess his love. He seeks the help of a few surviving practitioners of harana, an old-school courtship ritual. The serenade pushes through, and there's a fantastic medium shot of a giddy Bryan. With soothing romantic lyrics in the air, his beaming face is full of bliss as he eyes the girl of his dreams. And the reaction of the girl? Let's just say that she is not used to getting this profuse attention showered on her. But, one thing's for certain, she won't forget this harana night and the Rapunzel feeling of being desired. Ang haba-haba ng buhok niya. Parang Rapunzel.

Our elders may be onto something with harana. They know the power of harana songs to tame any lady. With glorious voices emanating from outside the house, no woman can resist taking a peek by the window.

Buksan ang bintana
at ako'y dungawin
Nang mapagtanto mo
ang tunay kong pagdaing

After viewing this documentary, I visited the web site of Aguilar. I've learned valuable things about a proper harana song. Not every local love song out there is a harana song. There's a certain beat and structure of a harana song. The lyrics should also be reflective of the act of serenading. I'm glad that at least three previously unreleased harana songs were given valuable screen time in the doc. Even better, these songs were eventually recorded by the Harana Kings. Iniibig Kita has the potential to become a hit in the hands of a popular singer. 

The documentary Harana has a strong middle portion. However, the book ends are not that good. The start showed various places but did not linger enough to show their relevance. I wasn't thrilled with the American Idol-style of showing horrendous performances. The time given to these performers should have been used in educating viewers about the differences of a harana song from a kundiman song. The end was not that elating, either. The stagy parting among the vocalists was not dramatic enough. The ending sort of rambled on and on. A concert scene or a recording session scene could have been perfect ending.

In the end, the emotional performances of the Harana Kings will remain with you. If you can't get enough of them, then grab a copy of the soundtrack, which is sadly the last album together of Alonzo, Bergunio, and  Celestino Aniel. The latter died in September 2012.

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