Dubai: Having the “Star for All Seasons” Vilma Santos in an independent film has intrigued me enough to watch the movie Ekstra (The Bit Player). Though not a Vilmanian (a term referring to Santos' hard core fans), I wouldn’t want to miss the rare opportunity of seeing her in an indie movie.
Ekstra is a socio-realist drama-comedy. It takes a light-hearted swipe at the harsh contrasting realities of the exploited and the privileged in the entertainment business. Consequently, the movie also takes on labour issues that permeate in the society.
The film captures a day in the life of a movies/television soap bit player, Loida Malabanan (played by Santos). It takes off as Loida wakes up early dawn to prepare for another out-of-town shooting for a television drama series as an extra. The film therefore provides a behind-the-scenes look at the travails and the simple joys of Loida and her fellow bit players.
Working in an industry dominated by the glamorous and famous, it would seem that bit players have their fair bit of small luxuries, fame and glamour. The movie shatters that impression as it focuses on the sufferings and indignities interspersed with the laughter and friendships of the bit players.

In one scene, the bit players have to look for a place to rest in a sun-soaked shooting location and eventually had to share a resting space with a carabao. In another, they literally have to beg for food from a member of the catering crew.
The movie is pretty straightforward with no complex subplots, so there were times when I yearned for a sudden twist. I didn’t get what I wanted.

Nonetheless, I thought that the cameo appearances of some industry stalwarts helped break the monotony of the story. Among the top talents who had cameos in the film are Cherie Gil, Cherry Pie Picache, Pilar Pilapil, Marian Rivera, Piolo Pascual, Tom Rodriguez, Eula Valdes and Richard Yap.
Ekstra is really a tribute to the bit players and scoffs at the “system” in the local showbiz industry wherein “star” talents are treated like royalty, while bit players (including those working off-camera such as technicians, custodians, etc) are exploited to the hilt.

Director Jeffrey Jeturian, who admits to being a Vilma fan, has crafted a film that is said to reflect his love-hate affair with the local television and film industry, having toiled as one of the bit players himself before becoming a celebrity director.