Idol si Pidol | Inquirer Opinion
There’s The Rub

Idol si Pidol

“Tito Dolphy practically devoted all his life sa show biz kahit pa may sakit, nagte-taping pa rin. It’s about time na mabigyan din natin ng recognition si Tito Dolphy. Sobra na rin ang inambag niya sa industriya ng pelikulang Pilipino.” (Dolphy has devoted all his life to show biz, he has worked even when sick. It’s about time we gave him the recognition he deserves. He has contributed enormously to the Philippine movie industry.”

That’s Vilma Santos on why Dolphy should be nominated for the National Artist Award. An issue that has become a little controversial of late, no small thanks to show-biz intrigue. Dolphy has been depicted as being desperate to get it, which has raised the hackles of his kin and friends. They’ve hastened to correct it, saying Dolphy merely said yes when asked in an interview if he would consider the National Artist Award a crowning glory. Who wouldn’t?

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The transcript bears it out. What he said to dzMM was: “Siyempre, ’yung National Artist, medyo iba ito, eh. The ultimate ’yan, eh. Kung mabibigay sa akin ’yan, maganda. Kung hindi naman, okay lang.” (National Artist, that’s something else. That’s the ultimate. If it would be given to me, great. If not, it’s OK.) What can one say? Typical Dolphy. Or Pidol na Pidol.

I’ve always had a soft spot for the guy and didn’t particularly mind that he agreed to endorse Manny Villar during the last elections, lending the weight of his name to his run. At the very least, the guy is broke. Spawning a biblical tribe of children, some of whom have turned biblically prodigal, has impoverished him. I don’t begrudge him the need to hanap-buhay, a lifetime of making people laugh has entitled him to it. At the very most, who knows? Maybe he believed in Villar and his message of plucking his countrymen out of the rut of poverty. He had done so himself, though in later years he had clawed his way back to it.

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Do I think Dolphy deserves to be nominated for the National Artist Award? Yes. Do I think he should become one? Well, he should at least be considered for it.

Certainly, I feel beholden to him for one monumental contribution to life, if not to art. That was for an insight he gave at a most propitious hour. It was the heyday of movie stars and other entertainers venturing into politics, encouraged no end by Erap’s phenomenal success there. Dolphy hadn’t joined the exodus and when asked why not when he seemed a virtual shoo-in answered: “Madaling tumakbo. Eh, paano kung manalo?”

There’s no better insight into politics, there’s no better demonstration of maturity. There’s no better gem of wisdom couched in humor, there’s no better nugget of truth garbed in, well, artistry. What can one say? Typical Dolphy. Or Pidol na Pidol.

Arguably, sheer industry or output is not enough to commend one to the lofty height of National Artist. Quantity is not quality, and may not take the place of it. The objections to Carlo J. Caparas are valid. They are by no means anti-masa, as the Caparas camp have made them out to be. Lino Brocka was as pro-masa as they come, demanding that his movies connect as much with the labandera as with the isnabera. But those movies also allowed the viewers to leave the movie house a little richer in spirit than when they came in. Art doesn’t have to be opposed to commerce. But not all commerce is art; and, even less, not all art is commerce. Some are, others not so.

I figure Dolphy lies somewhere between Caparas and Brocka. The quality of his movies has been uneven, rising to heights of true artistry and falling to depths of unmitigated commerce. One movie Dolphy did with Brocka, which was “Ang Tatay Kong Nanay,” was especially poignant, Dolphy not surprisingly essaying the role of a gay person who takes care of the child of a man he has fallen in love with. Not surprisingly because it’s Dolphy who has made a whole career out of playing gays, notably Facifica Falaypay, without offending the gay community by his portrayals.

It’s a feat of acting of sorts, the one person who in real life would be a serial lover of women and acquit himself in a way the anti-RH crowd would have approved of, would also be the quintessential gay of movies. Local movies have always tended to blur fantasy and reality, reel and real life, Erap going boldly, or at least farther, where others have not gone before. That Dolphy has managed to be one thing in his private life and another in his public one, or indeed stark opposites in both, that is not unimpressive.

It’s on TV, I think, that Dolphy has made his lasting mark. “Buhay Artista,” “John and Marsha,” and “Home Along da Riles” are sensibility-defining sitcoms. All three were long-lasting. The first one, quite incidentally, was created by a comic genius who should himself be considered for the National Artist Award, Ading Fernando. The latter two sitcoms are the Philippines’ version of the class divide, noted with wry more than bitter humor. As the henpecked husband, John, in “John and Marsha” and the long-suffering Kevin in “Home Along the Riles,” Dolphy gave the Pinoy poor a mirror of sorts of themselves. He gave the world a version of the Filipino Everyman.

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I don’t know that all this makes of him National Artist material. But I do know he has contributed hugely to what we now call Pinoy humor. I do know that he has taken that humor, which used to be more physical and in-your-face owing to its vaudevillian roots, and made it wittier and subtler. I don’t know that this will make him National Artist. But I do know there is something better, or more ultimate, than having one’s name carved in some hall to proclaim one’s glory, and that is having one’s name constantly on the lips of a people one has touched. Dolphy will always have the second.

Idol si Pidol.

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