In the 2016 Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) film “Die Beautiful,” Christian Bables—in what turned out to be his career’s breakthrough role—played Barbs, a trans make-up artist who lovingly gave her dead best friend celebrity transformations every night of the latter’s wake.
Five years later, in this festival entry “Big Night!,” Christian—now the lead star—is Dharna, a gay beautician who finds himself doing makeup on corpses of victims of extrajudicial killings.
And as he watched “Big Night!” with members of the press at an advanced screening last week, Christian couldn’t help but feel that he has finally come full circle.
“The MMFF jump-started my career, so it feels good to be back here. But this time around, I’m now the one on the poster. I’m so happy! It feels so good,” he told the Inquirer.
After “Die Beautiful,” he went on to play other LGBTQ+ characters in movies like “The Panti Sisters” and television series like “Halik.” While there was a time he was worried about being typecast in such roles, Christian realized that the call to exercise his craft was greater.
“In my early years in show biz, typecasting was something I thought about. I was worried about being boxed in those roles,” he said. “But as my journey went on, I realized that you learn your lessons from making decisions and meeting people you can trust. Now, more than anything, it is my craft’s call or demand to you as an actor that matters.”
And as long as the character can serve as a vehicle to deliver a crucial message, he will do it, he added—“it doesn’t matter if it’s a cockroach or a lizard I’m playing.”
Directed by Jun Robles Lana, “Big Night!” follows the exploits of Dharna whose name gets mistakenly included in the “Oplan Tokhang” or drug users’ watchlist of his area. Worried that his tainted reputation will affect his livelihood, he jumps through all sorts of hoops to clear his name—even if it means dealing with exploitative and shady characters.
Lana, who also directed “Die Beautiful” and “The Panti Sisters,” said Christian was his only choice for Dharna and that he was willing to wait for the actor and postpone the project if he didn’t accept the offer. Luckily, it didn’t have to come to that.
“I didn’t hesitate,” Christian said. “When my manager called me up and told me that Direk Jun wanted to offer me something, I said yes, even if I hadn’t even read the script yet. Hearing Direk Jun’s name alone made me want to do the project.”
Besides, Christian said, he’s not in a position to turn down a blessing. “If that’s what is being asked of me, then who am I to push that away? I’m getting an offer, being entrusted with a well-written character, when so many of us are struggling to find work,” he pointed out.
Scene from “Big Night!”
Because Dharna’s predicament is different and far graver than Barbs or the other LGBTQ+ role he has played, Christian had to make marked differences in his portrayal. “I had to change the way I talk, my mindset and how I view the world,” he said. “And I submitted myself to Direk Jun, telling him that, ‘I don’t know where to bring the character. Please teach me what to do.’”
“I thought that I had to do everything to play the character well. Bahala na kung saan huhugutin. I will focus on this and won’t think of anything else,” he added. “And now, looking at the movie, I’m a little speechless … I don’t see myself at all. I don’t know how I did it.”
Although he has always struggled with voicing out his opinions, especially in public, Christian is thankful that his projects, in a way, help him express his stand on certain issues.
“It’s not OK to take away lives,” the 29-year-old actor said of extrajudicial killing (EJK)—something his character was in danger of. “I have a firm stand, but I have trouble expressing it. But I’m able to show that through my art. There are things I want to say but don’t know how. I’m still trying to find my voice to speak up. I think I’m getting there.”
While “Big Night!’s” overall tone was comedic, the issue it tackles and the things at stake for Dharna were certainly no laughing matter. “His dilemma is that he’s at a dead end; he loses either way,” he said. “He may die. Or he may physically live but die on the inside.”
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