‘It is always the story first’: A conversation with Ash Malanum

March 3, 2021 - 10:39 AM
Ash Malanum is the writer of "Gameboys Level-Up," originally a web series that was carried by Netflix in late 2020.

Ash Malanum, the writer of popular web series “Gameboys” recently picked up by Netflix, has a penetrating and poetic sense of people, things and what they do, which he captures in plain and familiar language.

While his words are precise and his dialogues concise, life and how we live it in his stories remain complex and messy. This makes Ash an exemplary poet of his generation as he unpacks the complexity of everyday life today.

In Gameboys, such everyday life serves as the social matrix within which two young men, their friends and families, navigate their fluctuating emotions, as well as their socially distanced relationships during some of the worst times of the pandemic.

Ash had to constantly re-evaluate his positionality vis-à-vis the audience who were subjected to the material, emotional and psychological violence of the pandemic as much as the characters in the series were.

Consequently, while there was repeated consideration for main character Gavreel (Kokoy de Santos) to have tested positive for coronavirus, Ash was also constantly opposed to it.

“Personally kasi, I didn’t like it. Cai has been through so much,” Ash said. Cairo (Elijah Canlas), is the other half of the lead duo.

“As a fan, ano ba napapagod na ako. Can we be happy naman for a change? Ipagkita na natin sila (Cai and Gav),” Ash shared.

‘It is always the story first’

Gameboys Series 1 was praiseworthy for its subtle but effective articulation of issues society is dealing with such as those concerning sexuality.

Many fans have acknowledged that Gameboys helped them change certain mindsets as well as unravel deep-seated stereotypes.

But for Ash, it has never been his intention to preach about his own beliefs. For him, “It is always [about] the story first.”

“I am always truthful kasi to myself when I write. I don’t plan at all imposing my own ideas about sexuality or about society in general. Hindi ganun. Laging story muna ako. Kusa na lang siyang lumalabas,” he said. “That is why I am a storyteller.”

Hanggang sa Huli for ‘Gameboys 2’

SB19’s Hanggang sa Huli as an OST (Original Sound Track) for Gameboys 2 came after the story was written. It is a heart-wrenching song about unrequited love.

According to Ash, an A’Tin or fan of the phenomenal idol group, HSH was already his favorite even before it was released officially.

“Kasama na talaga siya sa playlist ko habang nagsusulat. Meron pa akong wishful thinking before na sana I could get to creative produce the music video. But anyway Justin did a wonderful job with it.”

It was Direk Jun and Direk Perci who initiated the negotiation for the use of HSH for Gameboys 2. They were the ones who pushed for the song for Gameboys 2.

Sony Records immediately gave its approval. However, the Korean management of ShowBT Entertainment asked for more time to make a decision as they wanted to watch the series first on Netflix.

There was anxiety while everyone was waiting for the decision. “Papayag ba sila o hindi?” During this time, the draft of the teaser of Gameboys 2 already had HSH as its sound track.

“Hindi talaga ako matutuwa kung hindi makuha ang song na ito. Aside from being a fan of SB19, it is really a good choice for the teaser and the series.

Kinilabutan ako nung first note pa lang. I kept on watching the teaser to the point that Direk Jun had to remind us that there was no approval to use it yet. ‘Baka masaktan lang kayo ha pag hindi pumayag ang ShowBT’.

Sabi ko, ‘Hindi puede. Kailangan makuha natin ito. We were very happy because we really wanted Hanggang sa Huli.”

For my last question, I reminded Ash that HSH is a painful song so it is highly likely that Gameboys 2 would end on a painful note as well. Am I right, I asked, to assume that the real ending of the series is in Gameboys The Movie? Am I right to take comfort in the fact that no matter how painful the ending of Gameboys 2 would be, the story of Cai and Gav would be happily redeemed in the movie?

I was hoping Ash Malanum, with poetic precision, would use the right—or even just the most appropriate—words to answer my question. But for the first time in our conversation, the unassuming, soft-spoken writer was at a loss for words.


Ruanni Tupas is a leading Filipino scholar of language education and multilingualism. He teaches at the Department of Culture, Communication and Media, Institute of Education, University College London.