The most important undertaking ‘Bagani’ would need to accomplish, is to live up to its title, and deliver its very essence. That is, if it aspires to disprove the claim of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, that the show’s used of the term, may be maligned, and that it may put its sheer substance to waste.
There has been a statement from ABS-CBN, addressing the issue, hoping to clarify that the intent is purely to embody the characteristics of ‘bagani’–the old Filipino term for “bayani’ or ‘hero’–and that the show is just inspired by various Philippine mythologies.
Arguably, this discussion is a delicate one to participate in, and it is easy to both share the IP’s sentiments, and hope that Star Creatives will deliver its promise. Whether this complication will affect the show, its narrative, and more importantly, its title, we wouldn’t know until the succeeding episodes arrive.
But for the meantime, we’ll examine the pilot episode, first.
READ: Is “Bagani” really distorting culture and history of the country?
‘Bagani’ offers a whole new world, a beautiful one, to the production team’s credit. That isn’t true, solely in the context of its visuals, but more remarkably, because of the richness of the mythology it pursues to consummate. The very first few minutes of the show, throw us into the heat, as one of its lead characters, Lakas (Enrique Gil), engages in an intense combat with a ferocious dragon (pardon the lack of more appropriate term).
CGI work for this scene does not necessarily thrust the audience into attention, but it is a fine practice, and perhaps, already groundbreaking on a local scale. As Lakas serves the creature its death, Zajian Jaranilla’s character suddenly breaks the fourth wall, and begins to narrate the genesis of ‘Sansinukob’–the fictional world of ‘Bagani’, told to have come from a single light that ‘Bathala’ took from the sky.
‘Sansinukob’ is a single enormous landmass, divided into five distinct geographical regions: the Desert region, or the ‘rehiyon ng mga taga-disyerto’, proud warriors but notoriously known as thieves; the Forest region, or ‘rehiyon ng mga taga-gubat’, the hunters of Sansinukob; the Merchants’ Region or ‘rehiyon ng mga taga-kalakal’, the richest region and economic center of Sansinukob; the Plains region or ‘rehiyon ng mga ‘taga-patag’, the farmers of Sansinukob; and lastly, the Ocean region or ‘rehiyon ng mga taga-laot’, known as the finest fishermen of the whole Sansinukob.
Of these five, the narrative chooses to introduce audience, to the desert region, first. Lakas, himself, is taga-disyerto, and it is just apt that the story commences from his tribe, as the other four tribes seem to be connected with the taga-disyerto, narrative-wise (of course this is obvious, what am I talking about?).
It is revealed that Lakas’ father, Agos (Albert Martinez), would marry Lila (Ana Abad Santos), a ‘maharlika’ from the “Rehiyon ng mga Taga-Kalakal”, who would be later disowned and banished by her own family from her region. Because of his choice, Agos and the rest of his group, are forced to wander across the vast expanse of the uninhabited desert. A water well miraculously appears, and he knows instantly, that a civilization would thrive around it.
But then, a desert is a desert, and without running water and a fertile soil, the tribe would eventually starve. Lila has to propose re-communicating with her family to ask for the help the desert people need. Suspiciously, it is during such attempt that the tribe’s known greatest betrayal is made, and all fingers are now pointing at Agos, whose family from then on, would be branded as ‘traitors’. But are they? Alab (Lito Pimentel), the tribe’s leader, knows the truth.
With Enrique Gil, mostly taking the spotlight, in the pilot episode, it is not hard to believe that he is the bigger character than any of the other four leads. His backstory is very interesting, but until the other four’s are revealed, it is not yet time to retire at such early judgment.
Expectedly, and almost consequently, the choice to focus on the desert region would have deprived the proceedings the excitement and tension, except it doesn’t. The lush and sweeping visuals expend life to the breathtaking locations utilized by the production. In some scenes, some green screen failure is still observable to the keen eye, but all are compensated in the allure of eye-popping aerial shots of the show’s mostly man-made sets.
More importantly, the pilot episode, alone, succeeds at conveying an important message. ‘Kailanman di kasalanan ang magmahal’, insists Agos, when he receives the blame of getting his tribe expelled from the merchants’ region, just because he chose to love someone from outside of his tribe. But it is his words of wisdom about family, courage, truth, and dignity, that will be imbued on Lakas, to propel him to become the greatest warrior of his time.
Mixing history and fiction, ‘Bagani’ maintains that its narrative is motivated by its hopes to propagate the values, morals, and ethics, that are inherent in a ‘bagani’.
There is a compelling force that drives the very idea of reimagining the traditional Filipino hero, and turning him to someone the new generation would easily relate with and thus emulate. And while 40-minutes would not suffice to make a more reliable assessment, to witness a grand production of this scale and aspirations, is enough promise that more interesting things are about to unfold. It would be a great challenge for the whole writing team to stay focused on the more attractive themes, as a narrative of this complexity tends to branch out to webs of smaller side-stories.
There are bigger, and a lot more intriguing aspects to be explored here, than merely how to invade villages, the most effective way, or how to summon animal spirits, that are more amusingly cute, than terrifying.
‘Bagani’ airs weeknights on ABS-CBN’s Primetime Bida, right after ‘FPJ’s Ang Probinsyano’ and before ‘The Good Son’