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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Ara Mina: What you see is what you get

Ara Mina and I must have started our showbiz careers around the same time. But she was very young then, while I was… no, I’m not the topic here so let’s not get into that anymore.

Supposedly she began in That’s Entertainment, but I don’t remember her there because that program had wholesale casting and it was difficult to distinguish the cast members individually.

But I remember watching her launching movie in 1996, but I don’t recall the title. It was a sexy horror where she was cast as a ghost, who was always in her prom gown. It was frightening as a film, not because of the horror scenes, but because it was so badly put together. And Ara, a very new and raw actress, could not for the life of her save the film.

When I migrated to the US and came home for a vacation in late 1998, one of the local films I saw was Sagad sa Init with Ara Mina. In the movie, she was totally eclipsed by Sharmaine Arnaiz, who played an evil and scheming politician’s wife.

The year after – when I had returned to the country for good – Ara made a film with Maryo J. de los Reyes. Again, I don’t remember the title, but it was like a sequel to My Other Woman. This time, however, Alice Dixson, who played the other woman a decade earlier, was cast as the legal wife and she had developed into a competent actress – eclipsing Ara Mina.

Ara Mina actually didn’t come into her own as an actress until 2002 – when she played a rebellious Chinese mestiza in the original Mano Po, which is still the best of the series.

She was declared Metro Manila Film Festival Best Actress for that film and when her name was announced as winner, there was a collective fainting among Vilmanians in the country and even all over the world. She shocked everyone by defeating Vilma Santos for Dekada ’70.

Although Vilma Santos (also for Dekada ’70) won in subsequent awards races and, in fact, scored a grand slam, we cannot dismiss Ara’s win in Mano Po as a fluke. Ara Mina by then had already improved tremendously as an actress. This time in Mano Po, she wasn’t eclipsed anymore by her co-stars, not even by the seasoned Maricel Soriano.

In the Manila Film Festival the year after, she gave an even more solid performance in Ang Huling Birhen sa Lupa and again won Best Actress.

She was at her very best, however, in Minsan Pa, but it’s something she can still easily top because she had already matured into a fine actress and I expect even better performances from her in the future. Such is my faith in her now as an artist.

As a person, I wasn’t witness to her transition simply because she had always been very nice – even from the beginning. She is best described in one adjective: Sweet.

Of course, there were times she had to show her fangs – like when she went into a word war with Aiko Melendez. That time I have to admit that I was somewhat drawn toward Aiko’s side because I’ve known her longer, am very fond of her and we have this bonding because our birthdays are only a week apart. But Ara remained sweet toward me – and still is to this day.

But what I like best about her is her honesty and sincerity. She is the classic "what you see is what you get."

Still another admirable trait is her love for her family – and her being so protective over her siblings. I’ve seen her fight for her sister Christine Reyes and I saw how Ara could also be ferocious in defense of a loved one. And even when it was the two of them fighting, I sided with her because I knew she only wanted what was best for her younger sister.

Even sister Mina Princess, a special child, isn’t lacking in love from her. Ara is practically dedicating her concert – Loving Ara – at the Araneta Coliseum this Saturday, Feb. 3, to this sister born with Down’s Syndrome. Part of the show’s earnings will be used to help children afflicted with different kinds of illnesses.

I’ve seen how Ara works so hard to make this project a success and I’m beginning to admire her even all the more (which is why I’m helping her out by way of this piece even if she didn’t ask me to).

Loving Ara
is not only a fund-raising event. It is also a testimony to her 15 years in show business – and there is reason for her to celebrate. After all, hurdling 15 years in the entertainment profession – with all its ups and downs and intrigues – is no mean feat. And Ara Mina survived that and turned out to be an even better person and artist.

STAR BYTES By Butch Francisco
The Philippine Star 01/30/2007

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