The tale of Amaya, the most powerful ruler of her time, is a beautiful—and to a certain extent, poignant—story, set amid the pre-Spanish colonial period. It weaves an intricate plot with elements of suspense, action, drama and comedy, against the majestic culture, tradition and history that many Filipinos have either unimagined or forgotten.
Amaya is the tale of a binukot—a “kept” princess born out of the love of a nobleman and a slave—who herself turned into a slave because of the untimely death of her father. Amaya vowed revenge against the ruler who killed him, not knowing at first that it was her fate to do so, as she was born with a twin snake. And in the course of eight months, television audiences witnessed how she graduated from being a slave, to becoming a shaman-in-training, to becoming a warrior. While she eventually exacted revenge upon her father’s murderer, she realized that the true enemy was not him but her father’s wife.
Without a doubt, the cinematography of Amaya is probably one of the best in Philippine dramas to date. Aerial shots are used in almost episode, putting emphasis on the beautiful sceneries and big-scale fighting sequences. At times, tracking shots are used, although there are scenes where they could have been employed but have not. In tear-jerking scenes as is typical with soap operas in the Philippines, the camera focuses on the facial expressions of actors, zooming in on their faces to emphasize the emotions portrayed.
The background music of Amaya involves the use of traditional Filipino instruments. Amaya’s main theme is energizing; it evokes a sense of excitement and thrill through its upbeat tempo. At times, the characters in Amaya express their emotions in the form of songs; our ancestors are music lovers and songs are the highest form of emotional expression. There are some background songs that sound as if they were recorded using MIDI instruments instead of the real McCoy. The show could have also resorted to using a gamelan or kulintang ensemble, if not for a full orchestra, for some of its background songs. Nevertheless, Amaya’s music is overall exciting and beautiful.
While Amaya boasts of a good cinematography and beautiful music, Amaya’s main strengths are its screenplay, acting and design. The script is generally unpredictable; fans have tried to guess the course of action of the plot without success. The story is intelligently-written, though at times the story suffered because of loopholes in subplots necessitated by its extension. Nonetheless, on the whole, the plot is solidly composed. It is also consistent with Philippine pre-Spanish history written in history textbooks used in school.
The characters themselves were well-written. Many of the characters were nonlinear; one character may not be typecast as “bad” or “good”, as their actions were relative to the circumstances surrounding them. For example, Rajah Mangubat, the fierce ruler who killed Amaya’s father, Dat’u Bugna, was also shown to be a loving husband and a wise ruler revered by his subjects. The chief shaman, Hilway, at times showed altruism and wisdom, but at the same time selfishness and ego. Other characters like Marikit, Binayaan and Mantal, are nonlinear, too. Lamitan, on the other hand, is a character shown throughout the series as the polar opposite of Amaya; but in reality she possesses intelligence, confidence and power that Amaya herself has.
The characters are well-portrayed as they are well-written. Performances from Gina Alajar as Lamitan, Glaiza De Castro as Binayaan, Ayen Munji as Lingayan, Angie Ferro as Hilway and Sid Lucero as Bagani are among the most unforgettable. They fit their roles to a T. It’s a visual feast to see how these actors act; in fact, Lamitan is currently the most hated woman on Philippine television. But, if there is one other person aside from her who deserves credit the most for a magnificent portrayal, that person would be Marian Rivera. She showed audiences that she is capable of evoking countless emotions—from a frail princess who cried like a princess on her father’s deathbed, to a fierce warrior who looked Lamitan in the eye as if she would consume her whole. As Amaya’s story spanned years, her portrayal of the lead character likewise showed development and maturity. Even if this show was conceived for her, to date, not one actress could match Marian’s portrayal of the title role.
Amaya is historical fiction. Thus it is not surprising that costumes, sets, and even artifacts used in the production were researched and crafted meticulously. Even the finest and the most trivial details were studied to give the series a genuine pre-colonial feel. Ancient traditions were portrayed as they are documented in history annals and archives. It's nice that all those empirical and vague concepts you learn in your History class find embodiment and physical form through Amaya. In fact, as religion, culture and tradition are interwoven into history, it is understandable that several mystical elements find their way to the story. Ancient beliefs such as a giant snake named Bakunawa engulfing the moon during an eclipse, powerful amulets, and special abilities such as calling on the spirits for help and walking on water are effectively portrayed in the show. History tells us of many supernatural tales that many hold true even today. When Amenhotep IV, Egyptian pharaoh, dreamed of the one god named Aton, he abandoned the polytheistic ways of the empire and worshiped him only, even changing his name to Akhenaton to show his change of belief. His nephew and successor, Tutankhaton was renamed Tutankhamen after Akhenaton's death. Constantine the Great, at the Battle of Milvian Bridge, saw a cross in the sky with the inscription, in hoc signo vinces (in this sign, conquer). That changed the course of the losing battle and also helped free the Christians from oppression. Or how about Joan of Arc's vision from God that she should lead the French troops so that the dauphin may be proclaimed King of France during the Hundred Years' War? Supernatural events plague history. Some are explained by science, but most are, well, supernatural.
To top it all, Amaya showcases values often forgotten or belittled by Filipinos today. It upholds love, friendship, loyalty and nationalism. For me, Amaya makes a call to many Filipinos who have often looked down on our heritage to be proud of our rich past. We are a country rich in culture and tradition, civilized even before the Spaniards came. We can look back at our past to inspire us to move forward into the future. And we can learn from Amaya so we too can become heroes in our own right.
A TV program entertains. A good TV program informs. A better TV program entertains and informs. An excellent TV program entertains well and informs much.
Amaya, for me, is an excellent TV program. One of the finest we've had in a while.