Sunday, August 23, 2009

Making himself heard

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Romalito Mallari, or Rome, was born deaf – and he is proud of it! All the more now that he is gaining fame for his portrayal of a deaf person in “Dinig Sana Kita,” one of the entries in the 2009 Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival.

“Dinig Sana Kita,’’ directed by Mike Sandejas, has offered Rome a new perspective in life, one where he is genuinely included. In fact, at the Cinemalaya screenings, Rome became an instant crowd favorite, especially among young girls, because of his good looks and effective acting. The film won both the National Council for Children’s Television Award and the Audience Choice award.

The film revolves around the story of the deaf boy Kiko and Niña, who does not appreciate the blessings she enjoys, in contrast to Kiko who makes the most of his life despite his handicap. Niña abuses her sense of hearing by listening to very loud rock music, a form of escape from her domestic problems. She does not realize the importance of her being “normal” until she meets Kiko, an orphan who learns to cope with his disability through dancing. The story of love and acceptance unfolds between the two.

Even before he was chosen to play Kiko, Rome has been active with various theatre groups such as the Earthsaver, Gantimpala Theater Foundation, Philippine Educational Theater Association
(PETATA) and Dulaang Tahimik ng Pilipinas (formerly, Internacional Teatro Silencio de Filipinas). Through the recommendation of Carolyn Ui of Link Center for the Deaf, Rome bagged the role in “Dinig Sana Kita”.

He is currently studying at De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde, where he is a scholar taking up Bachelor of Applied Deaf Studies degree with a specialization in the Multimedia Arts under the School for Deaf Education and Applied Studies (SDEAS). Rome is also the batch representative of the DLS-CSB student council as well as the head of the Workshop and Games committee in the 15th SDEAS Deaf Festival.

Rome has always wanted to become a television and movie actor. “I decided to take up my course because I really want to understand and know more about my deafness,” he shares. In the future, he wants to be able to land a job as a multimedia arts specialist at a prestigious company like Microsoft.

In an exclusive interview with Students and Campuses Bulletin, Rome shares the amazing challenges he faced while shooting the film.

“I could feel the actors around me wondering how I could act. So I proved my acting skills and ended up being praised for it,” he proudly says.

He admits that he initially had difficulty in understanding the script, but with the help of a sign language interpreter, Rome was able to memorize the lines and delivered them well.

“It was my first time to act in front of a camera but my experience on stage through theatre work helped me a lot,” he adds.

Rome is very happy to be the first deaf person to take a lead role. Indeed, his dreams have come true, he says.

WHAT HE LACKS IN HEARING…

Rome has long passed the stage when he would wonder and question why he was born deaf. To overcome the condition, he learned sign language and lip reading when he was young.

While he considers being deaf as something wonderful, there were times that things were difficult for him especially when it came to schooling.

“My aunt found it difficult to look for a school for me,” he recalls. Rome studied at the P. Gomez Elementary School when he was eight years old and transferred from one high school to another thereafter.

Rome admits that growing up “different” is a constant challenge for him especially in school. At home, no one would communicate with him. His neighbors even made fun of him. “Most of the time, I stayed home while my other brothers went out to play,” he recalls.

The communication barrier, he says, is the most difficult hurdle in his disability. For instance, during meal time, he would see people laughing but couldn’t really understand why. “While eating together at a dining table, I was very curious to ask why they were laughing but they would just shrug me off and tell me it’s not important or never mind.”

But Rome is very thankful for having a community that cares. “Having deaf friends is very comfortable because we all talk the same language. It is easier to share stories with them. I just hope people who can hear will also take the effort to learn our language so that it will be easier to communicate. It will be a more wonderful world for all of us.”

At DLS-CSB, a lot of Rome’s hearing friends are enrolled in sign language class, thus affording Rome and the other dead students the chance to be in a community. SDEAS also offers a degree in Applied Deaf Studies with specialization in Business Entrepreneurship.

Yearly, the school accepts 60 scholars but SDEAS is on the constant lookout for partners and for those who want to work with the deaf — in the aspects of training, employment, business, advocacy and even in special activities.

(“Dinig Sana Kita” will be screened for one week at Robinson’s Galleria starting Wednesday, August 26.)