In 2001, when Bob Ong’s “ABNKKBSNPLAko?!” hit bookstore shelves, all his publisher wanted was to sell the 500 copies it had printed. “We didn’t even think a reprint would happen,” said Nida Gatus-Ramirez, Visprint Inc.’s publishing manager.
But there was something about that little green book that touched readers. Maybe it was the author’s candid retelling of his student days or perhaps the way he could make them laugh out loud. People from all walks of life—including those who used to buy only English books and those who didn’t even think they liked reading books— bought and enjoyed it, sharing the gospel of Bob Ong with friends and reading it over and over again.
Twelve years, 240,000 copies, eight other books and a board game later, Bob Ong has managed to stay anonymous (yes, the name is a pseudonym, but if you’re a fan, you already know that). Last year, Visprint Inc. released an updated hardcover version to celebrate the book’s 12th anniversary.
This year, “ABNKKBSNPLAko?!” marks another milestone: Its movie version will hit theaters on Feb. 19. Produced by Viva Films, it stars Jericho Rosales, Andi Eigenmann, Vandolph Quizon and Meg Imperial.
In this Super interview, we quizzed the author, actor Jericho Rosales and director Mark Meily about this iconic book’s journey to the big screen.
‘Life’s been noisier’
How does it feel to have “ABNKKPSNPLAko?!” turned into a movie?
Bob Ong: Weird. Good weird.
When did you first realize that the book had made it big?
Seeing it on a best-sellers list was a good clue.
We know you were writing under a pseudonym—is there a part of you that wishes you could have used your real name, or do you enjoy the anonymity?
Enjoy might not be the best word. But no, I couldn’t see myself as a public figure.
Don’t you ever think, “Damn I wish I could go to my book launch and sign books” or “I want to tell that girl riding the MRT that she’s reading my book”?
It’s more of, “I wish I could personally hear from the people whose lives were touched by my books.” It would also be nice to hear laughter and see real smiles instead of emoticons. As for signing books, who likes that?! Yes for the second question. Oftentimes the case in bookstores.
Does your anonymity play a role in your writing process? Do you feel a bigger sense of freedom because people don’t know who you really are?
Yes. Imagine how honest and more passionate secret admirers are with their love letters. Or how savage and daring trolls are when they hurl words online without a care. Without the hurdles of reputation, we tend to be more of who we really are.
How hard or easy has it been to keep your true identity a secret? Are you surprised that people still haven’t figured it out?
It’s not that it’s hard or easy, I just find it odd that some people would trouble themselves and be bothered with who I am, yet just be OK with how things are going on in this country. Like, so my real name is Rogelio Manglicmot and I am an electrician and I look just like your uncle. How does that affect the course of your life?
Do your friends and family know that you’re Bob Ong? (Para kang superhero!)
I told my father and my best friend. I never trusted them again. <*ngiti*>
Did your desire to remain anonymous affect your involvement in the filmmaking process? What was the deal with the studio—how much power did you have over the movie and how much freedom did you give the studio in using your material?
Yes. I gave the filmmakers full creative control after putting my two cents in.
How easy was it to relinquish control?
Did you ever visit the set?
Who wrote the script?
Ned Trespeces (“Jologs,” 2002). Viva put good people in the project.
Have you seen the movie? What do you think?
No, I haven’t. If we can get over the usual book-film conflict, I think the movie should be enjoyable on its own merits.
How do you feel about Jericho Rosales being cast to play you? Is there any other actor who you felt could play the role?
It’s surreal and funny to actually see a real actor play me. Jericho Rosales isn’t bad, but I was under the impression that readers actually picture me more as Christian Bale when they read the book. True story.
You’ve written a number of other books. Would you like to see any of them on the big screen, too?
Yes and no. Yes, because I wish to see “Alamat ng Gubat” on the big screen or an entirely new story that I’ll write. I just think that we have many unbelievably talented artists; that given good material, we could give Pixar a run for its money. And no, because I realized marketing a film requires an awful lot of self-pimping.
It’s been 12 years since your first book was published. How do you feel about your great success? Has it changed the way you write?
I’m no longer as “anonymous” as I used to be. Life’s been noisier. If I could take back all the good and bad, ideally I’d want only less than half of this “success.”
You’ve managed to avoid one thing that usually comes with success— fame. We’re curious to know the biggest impact that success has had on your life.
My Internet access subscription is no longer prepaid.
How did being Bob Ong change your life?
As an observer, I now have better seats from where I could see a bigger picture of the world. Life’s clearer when you see it from more than one vantage point.
What do you have in store for your fans?
There are two more movies coming. If I survive the limelight, don’t decide to quit and God wills, I should have fiction and a long overdue nonfic before the year ends.
Any tips for aspiring writers?
For best results, find your purpose.
Do you still like Comic Sans?
Not as much. My support group proved to be very helpful.
People love reading your books, but we want to know what you enjoy reading.
A decade ago, I’d say philosophy, humor and world affairs. Now I just read for research. I also have four unread books of “Wimpy Kid” and am trying to finish “The Giver” before they show the movie.
‘A movie made for me’
Why did you say yes to this role?
Jericho Rosales: Gosh, for me, this is a very important role to play. Bob Ong has millions of fans and the book has millions of fans. When I got the script, I remembered my childhood. I remembered my high school days and my elementary days. It was just … feeling ko it was a movie prepared for me. I’m honored. I got super-excited. I said, “I have to play this role.” We had fun doing it and now everybody’s excited.
Were you familiar with Bob Ong and his book before being cast in the movie?
No. They sent me the book, they sent me the script, and that’s when I became a fan. Iba ’yung writing niya eh.
Did you feel any pressure, knowing that the book has a big fan base?
No. I knew immediately that the movie would have enough support. We have Mark Meily, the cast… And even before we started filming, we were already having fun. During my contract signing sa Viva, it felt really good and right. I believe that it’s meant to be. Walang pressure. I hate putting pressure on myself.
So, you weren’t pressured by the fact that you’re portraying someone who’s practically an icon?
I guess it really helped that marami akong experiences na pinagdaanan, like what he wrote in the book. From elementary, ’yung classroom issues niya, ’yung teacher issues niya, insecurities, everybody has insecurities. And enjoying high school life, falling in love with someone, not being able to do anything about it, feeling like a loser, feeling helpless, feeling torpe, feeling lost in high school.
You felt that?
Yeah, in high school I was really quiet. Elementary lalo na. Quiet lang ako, dun lang ako sa flagpole, kakain ako. I’m really shy. So my mother and my family nagulat when I joined a contest before (and) nung naging artista na ako. So it really helped that naka-connect ako sa story ni Bob Ong.
What were things like on set? Any memorable shooting stories?
The reunion scene and the prom, I would never forget them because never ako naka-attend ng prom ever, hindi ko na-experience ’yun.
What were you like as a student?
Really quiet. I studied hard naman always pero maaabutan ako ng issues ko as a kid, so maiiwanan na ako ng mga homework, assignments… Walang biro ’to, nangopya din ako, nagpakopya din ako, naghabol din ako, natulog sa classroom, nagkalat, nag-ingay, nag-cutting classes. When I was in high school, I would cut classes to watch movies. Iipunin ko ’yung baon ko so I’ll have popcorn money and movie money. I really loved watching movies. Maybe that’s why I’m doing movies now.
Tell us about your favorite teacher.
Sa Bicol ’to. I went to six schools kasi in elementary. Sa Bicol, I joined an English contest. Ginabi kami dun sa contest. My house sa probinsya was 3 kilometers away from the school and I walked every day. And you had to walk the road barefoot. My favorite teacher asked me to stay sa house niya. Being a mama’s boy, ayoko ’di ba? So she let me go. My house, sobrang daming nakakatakot na ghost stories, mga lumulutang… I got scared. Umuwi ako sa bahay na umiiyak. But I’ll never forget her, she was caring and loving.
What was the craziest thing you did as a student?
This was in elementary. Inilalagay ko ’yung lapis sa table tapos babasagin mo (slams down his hand). I dared myself, I wanted to be tough. So I got the pencil of one of the toughest students in class and I broke it in front of him. He got mad. He was about to punch me. In my head ang dami nang nangyayari. Then I punched his face. Eh uso si Hulk Hogan dati ’di ba, ’yung gumaganun (mimics the angry wrestler), ’yung hindi tinatablan. Natakot ako. I started crying. Then I ran to my teacher and I confessed my sin.
Meron pang isa, ’yung hinabol ako ng flying kick kasi I made fun of him. Medyo may pagka-naughty ako eh.
‘My kids were reading the book’
What attracted you to this project?
Mark Meily: I was invited by Vincent del Rosario for a meeting in December 2012. I had heard about the book years ago because my kids were reading it. I thought it was a fresh idea to do a Bob Ong film starting with his No. 1 best seller and his first book.
While working on the movie, did you feel any extra pressure knowing that “ABNKKBSNPLAko?!” has a huge fan base?
Yes, even before the script was written. When I was reading the book, ang question ko lagi is, “Paano mo gagawing script ’to? Paano mo gagawing kwento ’to?” Kasi episodic, ’di ba, hiwa-hiwalay… pati ’yung time elements. You have to have a character play Roberto’s character from grade school hanggang pagtanda. ’Yung casting, nagwo-worry na ako. Who would be the perfect actor to play nung ganung kalaking range? Eventually it fell into place. Magaganda ’yung characters. ’Yung script ni Ned focused on growing up and falling in love, the important things that happen in life, coming of age.
Does the movie stay true to the book? Or did you have to make a lot of changes to the material?
Yes. It’s not fiction, it’s not a narrative book. We did stick to the book as much as we could. We took out some parts only because magiging masyadong episodic ’yung film. We added some scenes para ma-thread ’yung istorya.
What was it like working with Jericho Rosales?
Si Jericho kasi I’ve known him since 2008. ’Yung dynamics namin as actor and director, very grounded na ’yung relationship namin. I would say one thing and he knows … amazing ’yung repertoire niya of emotions. Sabi ko nga, somebody with this intellect, skill and talent would be somebody who probably went to an acting school in New York. Grabe ’yung pagkakaintindi niya eh. Imagine, he’s playing the role of a high school student hanggang tumanda siya to his mid-30s na kailangang maging credible siya playing the part, but at the same time, hindi “’di ba, parang ang tanda na niya” or “parang ang bata niya.” When we saw the film, ang galing. Maniniwala ka eh. Uy, high school. Uy, college. Uy lumipat ng college. Very effortless ’yung pag-grow niya.
Did working on the movie bring back your own school memories?
Very much. Especially ’yung high school. Ang daming eksena dun sa movie na nangyari eh. ’Yung “pumoop,” of course hindi ako ’yun, ’yung classmate ko. ’Yung tumawid sa baha, I remember, nag-cut classes ako para manood ng isang movie sa Quad, Makati. Eh August ’yun, panahon ng baha. Tumawid talaga ako sa baha na pagkalayo-layo. Alam ko ’yung experience.
Which movie was that?
“Brother Sun Sister Moon,” replay nung movie. Pagdating ko sarado ’yung movie house kasi nga may bagyo. Hanggang ngayon hindi ko pa napapanood ’yung movie.
What kind of student were you?
Tahimik. Sabi nung friends ko tahimik daw ako. Pero meron akong kalokohan, may mga ginagawa akong mga kalokohan na later on ko na lang in-admit na I was the one who did it. Mga practical joke. There was one time in high school, trip lang, nilagyan ko ng pintura ’yung silya nung classmate namin. Same color, brown, but it’s fresh paint. So pag-upo niya… Tapos gumawa ako ng parang magazine na parang ginawan ko ng spoof ’yung teachers, may drawings tapos may article, may caricatures ng teachers. Walang nakakaalam kung sino ’yung gumawa, pero kumalat ’yung paper na ’yun.
Like most Filipino students, sobrang hirap ako sa math. Ang daming experiences ko in all those years na it would have been more interesting, I would have been more diligent kung magaling ’yung teacher. That’s what happened in the book eh. Ang dami niyang mga hinaing sa teachers, ang dami niyang reklamo sa mga weirdong teacher, magagaling na teacher, pero eventually siya mismo naging teacher.
What do you want people to take away from watching this movie?
That being in school is important because you will learn much about life. Learning about life and getting an education are different things. Mas importante ang learning about life, and you also get that in school. Malaking bagay ang contribution ng school.