September 22, 2007

Lilet's Little Secret

By: Guillermo Ramos

Or How Celia Rodriguez made my life worth living.

When I was 10 years old, I was keeping a great secret from my family. It is such a great secret that I know it will be the end of the world for me and I will be killed by both of my parents if they find out that I was playing with a doll. I really felt that it was a criminal thing to do, hiding a doll in a shoebox in a storeroom on the second floor of our house and only me, but me who will know where it is hidden.

The doll is nothing special. In fact, it was from some cheap souvenir shop bought by my cousin in Saigon, when his tour of duty was over, mind you not as a soldier, but as a combo player. My aunt who owned a sari-sari store was a practical and tidy woman. She likes to throw away things that are no longer useful to her. One of the things she threw away was this eight-inch Vietnamese doll complete with a hat and white tunic (Imagine Lea Salonga in Miss Saigon). When she was about to douse a can of kerosene to the dump, the doll sort of talked to me and screamed silently to ask me to save her from my aunt's wrath. When she lit up the dump and as soon as the fire was stable, she left and I ran towards the burning flame and looked for the doll, and there she was, her beautiful black raven hair protected by the straw hat she was wearing was already ablaze. Her left foot was a convoluted fusion of plastic and charcoal. With a long stick I braved the conflagration and tried to save what is left of the doll. What I saw was a sad and sorry state, a gruesome cocktail of charred plastic, burnt cloth, soil and organic substance clinging to it. Smoke coming out of its missing limb, like the photograph of the little girl in the infamous Tet offensive came to my mind. The doll was sending cryptic messages to me as I took it and hid it from every one else. The horror reminded me so much of Celia Rodriguez when she played Valentina in "Lipad, Darna, Lipad" when Darna shielded herself with a mirror when the lethal laser beam emanated from Valentina's eyes backfire on her and causing her destruction. I named my burnt little doll "Lilet" in honor of my muse Celia Rodriguez.

Years later, I had the chance to meet Celia Rodriguez in a highly pretentious Japanese restaurant in Greenbelt 3 for a chat. I shared with her oysters and sea urchin in a bed of crushed ice and rock salt for starters. I couldn't believe my self being seated next to the muse of my childhood. As I place the slimy sea urchin in my mouth, the film projector in my mind suddenly ran a clip from "Lipad, Darna, Lipad". Celia played Valentina, the Queen of the Reptiles and moonlights as a ramp Model. She was seen walking on the lobby of the Manila Hotel in a turban covered Medusa wig, bare midriff Indian Sari, and on her belly button, a giant Ruby known as the "Star of Bombay" that can blow away suspecting Bollywood wannabees. At the Ilang Ilang Coffee shop, she saw Darna flying across Rizal park and she said, "Sino ba yang Babaing Mababa ang Lipad"

I was brought back to my senses, when she asked me if I was recording our conversation. I was quite taken aback and got embarrassed, although, I have no intention to use the recorded conversation to blackmail her, it doesn't really amount to anything. I told her that I'm using the material for a magazine article. Suddenly, there was a glint of excitement from her eyes. "So what do you write about?" She inquired. "Well, I write about dead, has-beens and forgotten people that created a dent in my life." I said wryly. She then broke to a half non-committal smile.

Of the three antagonists of Darna, Celia Rodriguez has the class and camp factor that's missing from the other two: Gloria Romero played the smarmy provincial public school teacher Miss Luna / Impakta / Bampira and Liza Lorena as Babaing Lawin that she looks more like a "basang sisiw" than a malevolent she-hawk. At least Celia Rodriguez had provenance and name to match her existence. In the film she was known as Dr. Valentina Vrandakapoor, Ph. D. in Reptilian Zoology from the University of New Delhi. She had to battle the waist-less Darna "mano-mano" in mid-air. Ate Vi had no match with Valentina, especially when Celia donned the Darna costume. She was flat chested, and she also had no waist. Her back is as flat as her front. She could pass for a transvestite, if you don't look further down. But I think she is well preserved for her age. She may have minute crows feet on the corner her eyes caused by years of constantly smiling for no reason. There was no traces of botox, collagen implant or stitches behind her ears. She has tiny ears like a rat's. It is so tiny and pointed and cute like a baby Klingon, only to be offset by a stunning sapphire earring that goes bling bling every time she turns her head. Her dyed black hair was a give away. It was so black and sticky as if she used Coke to shampoo it. Or is it the atomic strength hair spray she used that no amount of tsunami would destroy it. In spite of the artifice, she was still beautiful. The red Mac lipstick becomes her. She is obviously prettier than Angelica Houston when she played Morticia in Adams Family Values. I just wish, producers and directors offered her offbeat and challenging roles. She could have played Markova better than Dolphy, I think. She has more depth and the portrayal would be less caricature-ish.

Before Celia Rodriguez's career catapulted into great heights via Darna, I remember seeing her in two films that defined her career: Celso Ad Castillo's "Kung Bakit Dugo ang Kulay ng Gabi" where she played a supporting role to Rita Gomez and Alona Alegre as a fashion model (ala "Blow-up") wearing nothing but original Emilio Pucci and the ground breaking "Lilet" where she collected the FAMAS best actress trophy in 1971. It was a tight race between Celia Rodriguez and Rita Gomez. When Celia's name was called as the best actress winner, Rita Gomez appeared from the back stage and grabbed the trophy from Celia. A struggle ensued between the two women. Coiffure bashing and make-up scraping were the order of the day. "I am the real best actress!" Says Rita. "No! I am! Give that to me!" Replied Celia. Few days later, the photo of the hair pulling incident was splashed all over the major newspapers and no one bloody cared.

"Lilet," was a psycho-thriller-film noir directed by Gerry de Leon. De Leon too has won the FAMAS as best director that year. The film was rated for Adults only. Somehow, I managed to sneak to the fleapit, sawali-covered wall of our local cinema in Cavite; it was called GAY THEATER. The film was so frightening that the only thing I can remember is the presence of at least 10,000 black tailor's scissors in every frame. That led me in embarking on an early career in Haute Couture where I dress up my burnt, limbless doll Lilet in secret, which gave me so much pleasure. To this day, I can’t remember where I hid Lilet for fear that I will be found out. I'm sure my late father buried it somewhere in our garden, which for him was a great effort literally "nipping the bud" before it starts.

Also read: From Aldeguer Sisters to Sex Bomb Dancers

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