We don’t want to be a copycat of Step Up,” director Paul Alexei Basinilio was quoted saying during a VIVA Convention prior to Indak’s release. “If you noticed in the baybayin translation…that’s indak. We specifically wrote this because we wanted to promote Filipino culture.”
Basinilio presented an interesting causality — to use baybayin is to promote Filipino culture — and some would argue that this was a rather misinformed reach.
Baybayin is just one of the many ancient scripts in the Philippines and it was mainly used by the Tagalogs*. To imply that baybayin is representative of an entire nation therefore reveals a seeming obliviousness to certain nuances surrounding the discourse on Filipino culture. Even using the phrase “Filipino culture” alone already invites further discussion; it suggests the existence of a monolithic (read: singular) identity which may not be true for a country as widely diverse as the Philippines.
Basinilio also claimed in the same Convention that the performances in Indak use “very Filipino…references but done in a modern way.” One may assume based on these assertions that maybe Indak does offer a new perspective. The film also lists not one, not two, but five screenwriters, so a collaboration among five minds may have birthed some notable insights on dance and culture.
Unfortunately that’s not the case.
Indak “promotes Filipino culture” no more than G-Force does when they perform on ASAP. The film’s idea of promoting culture is merely confined to using colorful fiesta costumes and dancing to songs that are sung in Filipino.
The routines in Indak are also still primarily based on Western dance movements. Nadine Lustre’s solos, for example, are rife with hip and leg jiggles reminiscent of a move that sprung from New Orleans way back in the 80’s (see Twerking). All other performances in the film demonstrate no clear attempt at showcasing a distinctly Philippine dance-inspired choreography — there is no contemporization of the dances that Francisca Reyes Aquino compiled, not even a hint of Agnes Locsin’s exploration of neo-ethnic ballet**.
Of course there can be other possible references outside the traditional dance forms, but Indak‘s choreography looks nothing more than an admittedly watchable fusion between hip-hop and theatrical modern dance. Still it would be nice if a dancer who had seen the film could elaborate on the technical merits of Indak‘s choreography, especially in terms of “promoting Filipino culture” or “employing “Filipino references” — these claims are simply too loaded to ignore.
But even if we do, watching the film with leveled expectations does not make it any better.
Like all dance-musicals, Indak carries the burden of having to squeeze dance sequences and narrative expositions into a limited runtime. To address this constraint, Indak captures the protagonist Jen (played by Lustre) in tight shots while she broods and narrates the story through voiceovers — lots of voiceovers.
Jen’s numerous voiceovers fail to gel together the story’s various thematic turns on the pursuit of childhood dreams, the value of teamwork, the strength of a mother-daughter bond, the importance of returning to one’s roots, etc. There’s even a love triangle thrown in there somewhere. To quote one of the soundtracks, “ang gulo-gulo.”
It also doesn’t help that Jen’s narrations are sometimes redundant and often unfounded, and they’re all written in a way that screams high school feature writing basics. Exhibit A: “Ang buhay ay parang ritmong sinasayaw.” (I mean, weh?)
Ultimately Indak is a marginally entertaining dance film that offers nothing of substance. A lot of fellow mapagmarunong viewers have already noted how Lustre is a much better actress than a dancer — and Indak, I contend, is a much better Sunday variety production than a movie.
* This article from CNN Philippines describes other ancient writing systems that are not baybayin and briefly discusses the limitations of the National Writing System Act, the law that declares baybayin as the Philippines’ national script.
** This video from the Ateneo is a good introduction to Agnes Locsin and her works on neo-ethnic dance and performance. Agnes Locsin, as far as I know, is not related to Darna.
The featured image was taken from IMDB.