"This country deserves a television that is different, contemporary, maffia-free, novel and willing to be adventurous."
"I never saw an executive that was certain, only a moment that was certain because of those who do, not those who decide."
"The nine million tv spectators are still worthy. They are waiting for something sensible, varied, new and able to confront them."
--My translation. Cabrujas, J.I. (1995). El Nacional.
This week José Ignacio Cabrujas would have celebrated his 70th birthday.
His contribution to telenovelas is immense. He broke the paradigm that telenovelas could only tell the same basic story with redundant language. In a genre populated by cinderellas, Cabrujas gave us heroines with agency over their destiny and characters that escaped the traditional telenovela rosa manicheism. He taught us that the story's context also matters, be it contemporary or historic.
Today, twelve years after a heart attack prematurely took him away, his impact on the telenovela landscape is still evident. In Venezuela, César Miguel Rondón, Leonardo Padrón and Mónica Montañés are some of the authors that display more clearly his influence. But it's also obvious in the most successful telenovela author of the last decade, Colombian Fernando Gaitán (Café con Aroma de Mujer, Yo soy Betty, la Fea, Hasta que la plata nos separe):
"I had a marvelous encounter with José Ignacio Cabrujas that marked me for the rest of my life and was determinant in my appreciation and knowledge of television. [...] Colombian television was very closed, until the telenovela Café con Aroma de Mujer. I say it with modesty, but this telenovela opened the door for Colombia. In my country we didn't know the television world. It was maestro Cabrujas who probably was the first person that showed us this enormous universe and how he had studied it in Venezuela.".
--My translation, Fernando Gaitán, interviewed by Leonardo Padrón in radio show Los Imposibles, 2005.
In this era of globalization in which the remake seemingly reigns, we witness how Yo soy Betty, la fea transforms into Ugly Betty, and read definitions of the telenovela as a mere variant of the soap opera, it's necessary to remember Cabrujas's words when he affirmed that "Latin America invented the telenovela".
We shouldn't forget either that studying telenovelas in-depth can provide clues to understanding our culture(s) and society(ies):
"Because it is so quotidian, because we watch it on television, we don’t ask ourselves where does it come from, what supports it, what kinds of concepts does it deal with, what is in it that is universal and human"
--My translation. Cabrujas, José Ignacio (2002), Y Latinoamérica inventó la telenovela, Caracas: Alfadil, pp. 21-22.
Cabrujas was a visionary that understood Venezuela with enviable and necessary clarity. Two weeks ago I had the immense pleasure of attending in Caracas the latest staging of his amazing play "El día que me quieras". I felt as if Cabrujas had written it the night before, not almost 20 years ago. That is how actual this magic text is, how assertive Cabrujas was...and how permanent Venezuela's problems seem to be.
Throughout the many years I have been researching telenovelas, there have been many actors who have said to me "¿What would José Ignacio say today about Venezuela, television and telenovelas?"
Personally, I think we know what he would say...
"the message that Cabrujas left us is that every day that we are inside television, making television, has to be like signing a declaration of independence. In synthesis, it must be an act in which there are capital letters and risk. [...] I believe that his message is that the trench is still there. That we still have to fight stupidity, even if stupidity is who pays our monthly check."
--My translation. Padrón, Leonardo (2002). A propósito de Cabrujas.