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‘Rina’, the telenovela that changed Mexican TV

'Rina' that opened the Mexican TV night slot to melodramas.  (YouTube capture)

‘Rina’ that opened the Mexican TV night slot to melodramas. (YouTube capture)

As all expert viewers know, there are such successful stories in the field of telenovelas that television stations and producers decide to revive them in later times, with other protagonists and with some changes in the plot (what some people call “rehashes”).

Some manage to surpass the success of the previous one, but there is also the case of those that do not manage to have the same strength and, for reasons such as the selection of the cast, fail; In short, it is a roulette… but there is a telenovela that has always been accepted since its first production, and has made its protagonists true stars. Of course, we are referring to ‘Rina’, that famous telenovela produced by Valentín Pimstein for Televisa, which is celebrating its 45th anniversary.

Based on the radio soap opera Ines Rodena “La Galleguita”, which was broadcast in Cuba in 1955 and adapted by Luis Reyes de la Maza, “Rina” was an experiment by Pimstein, who in December 1976 had been commissioned by Emilio Azcárraga Milmo to open the night bar for a melodrama, something that was unusual for that time since since 1958, when the first telenovela was made, they were broadcast in an evening slot and touched on romantic and social themes, but they rarely raised the tone so much as to guarantee a night time slot.

In fact, Televisa’s night time slot was traditionally occupied by variety and musical programs. such as ‘Noches Tapatías’ or ‘El Estudio de Pedro Vargas’ or ‘El Show del Loco Valdés’, but the melodramas that were broadcast were American, such as ‘Peyton Place: The Devil’s Cauldron’ or ‘Dark Shadows’.

Pimstein accepted the challenge and proceeded to put together the adaptation of this story that was about a poor (and hunchbacked) young woman, Rina Galeana, who sold lottery tickets and paper flowers, to be the breadwinner for her family, because her father was an irresponsible drunk and she had to support her brothers; one was a criminal, the other an easy girl and the youngest (demián Bichir’s debut role) was a good and generous boy.

Things changed when a greedy old man married her (without her knowledge) so that when he died, she would be the heir to a vast family fortune, which caused the dead man’s sister-in-law to force her son, Carlos Augusto, to conquer and marry the “little widow” to recover the fortune that she considered the family’s heritage and not “that hunchback’s”.

As protagonists, the couple Ofelia Medina and Enrique Álvarez Félix were chosen; She had already attracted attention in other Pimstein melodramas such as ‘Lucía sombra’, where she was a blind person in love with an impossible, ‘La senora Joven’ in which she was a newlywed who had to deal with an ugly political family, ‘La Hiena’, in which she was the cunning stepdaughter of a malevolent and murderous stepmother (Amparo Rivelles) who managed to get even with her evil deeds, and ‘Paloma’, in which she was a brilliant lawyer who defended her mother in court, without knowing that she is the author of her days. On the other hand, he was the viewers’ favorite heartthrob and had the presence that he inherited from his mother, the eminent María Félix.

The telenovela began recording and completed its cast with Carlos Ancira, Guillermo Zarur, the stunning Sasha Montenegro and as the main villain, a bad, very bad, greedy and vile mother-in-law, the role was given to the monumental María Rubio, who played Doña Rafaela Espinoza de los Monteros was an extremely memorable character —at that time, Reyes de la Maza was her husband and he wrote the character to suit her, including absolutely everything, even satanic possession, something that they could do at night, but or a joke during family hours. Since ‘The Exorcist’ had had a tremendous success in Mexico, Reyes de la Maza found it easy to incorporate that type of element (Doña Rafaela even spoke like the devil and all that) and the public couldn’t take their eyes off the screen.

Another novelty offered by ‘Rina’ was being the first telenovela in which there was simulated sex (between Álvarez Félix and Sasha Montenegro: the protagonists back then only had sex and got pregnant automatically, but everything was out of frame) and you can’t imagine how much caused controversy, in 1977. When the finale was recorded – people wrote to Televisa to ask in which hospital Rina’s hump had been removed, which is not possible, but the public believed it – in the newly opened Basilica of Guadalupe , a crowd gathered to see their favorite TV characters up close and from that moment on, Azcárraga ordered that telenovelas continue to be made for that time slot, following ‘Rina’ with ‘Viviana’ and then ‘Los rico they cry too’)

In 1992, 15 years after this hit, Pimstein offered the ‘Queen’, Victoria Ruffo, who had done a successful version of ‘Simplemente María’ a couple of years before, to do the first remake of the telenovela, also for night time.

La Ruffo, very categorically, said no, because she was not willing to play a lame, or a hunchback, or anyone with any physical defect (which is a key element of the original story) and frankly she was fed up with make “fries”.

Pimstein thanked the temperamental Queen, showed her the door and as soon as she left, she asked which actress was in fashion and needed a chance: that’s how Thalía became ‘María Mercedes’ with Arturo Peniche and Laura Zapata as ‘Malvina’ , a more caricatured version of Doña Rafaela (in fact, the whole tone of the telenovela was more fantastic and light); Thalía told Pimstein that she was delighted, but that she did not feel comfortable pretending to have a physical defect either, so they agreed that she would be just a vulgar and uneducated girl, who would refine herself eventually, for love, following the original plot more or less.

‘María Mercedes’ was another hit and, of course, it gave rise to the “Trilogy of the Marías” —which includes ‘Marimar’ (a rehash of ‘La vendetta’, which was a milestone for Helena Rojo in 1977) and ‘María la del neighborhood’ (i.e. ‘The rich also cry’). In her third round, in 2004, she was made in Miami as ‘Inocente de ti’, with Camila Sodi, who also rose to fame with this version that was not so successful (and she did not have chemistry with Valentino Lanús de todas formas) and from there he became fashionable and became a movie star.

Be that as it may, ‘Rina’ revolutionized TV forever and no matter how many versions are made of it, it remains a captivating story for many generations.

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