7 June 2011 by Keith Collantine

One scene in Senna which is received with laughter by most audiences gets a very different reaction when shown in Brazil.

Why does one scene get two contrasting reactions? The film’s writer Manish Pandey explained some of the surprising responses to the film in Senna’s home country.

“I should have kissed him for ’94?

One of the more amusing moments in Senna sees him on stage in a Brazilian children’s television show. He is smothered with kisses – and bright red lipstick – by the host Xuxa Meneghel. But while this scene is viewed as comedy by many – including the filmmakers – in Brazil it carries more sombre undertones, as Pandey explains:

“Watching that in Sao Paulo, it was one of the darkest moments of the film.

“It just shows you, [what happens] when you’re a bunch of foreigners and you make a film about somebody you never really knew.

“We turn up and Asif [Kapadia, director] and James [Gay-Rees, executive producer] and I watched the film at the premiere in a cinema full of Brazilians for the first time.

“Normally, when you watch it, you know where the funny moments are – like Alain Prost asking if they can be tied on points.

“When the Xuxa thing happens, everyone in England laughs: you’ve got this big world champion dancing badly with lipstick all over his face.

“What we didn’t realise is that in Brazil there’s a big myth about the number of times she kisses him. When she stops, she stops at 1993.

“It never occurred to me, it never occurred to Asif, it never occurred to James, it never occurred to anybody. We were laughing at it. She shook our hands at the end of the film and she was crying.

“And the next day in the Brazilian press she said ‘I should have kissed him for ’94?”.
The Piquet rivalry.  The critical reaction to the film in Brazil was also quite different: “They really wanted more of the Senna-[Nelson] Piquet rivalry, because our film is centred around Senna and Prost”. Pandey contrasts Senna’s view of being Brazilian, given in an interview on a programme called Roda Viva, with Piquet’s:

“He clearly felt that he was Brazilian, whereas Piquet wasn’t. He clearly felt that he’d made this absolutely conscious decision to get on a plane after every race [to return home].

“Ron Dennis told us much the same thing that, at McLaren, even if they were travelling two days to be in Brazil for one, he just needed to do that.

“Whereas Piquet, as he says, lived in Italy, his friends are Italian and he’s got very few Brazilians around him. Nelson Piquet’s name was Piquet Souto Maior and he hid the Souto Maior part because he didn’t want his mother to know he was motor racing.

“He’s a great guy, a funny guy, but he was in some ways an extremely different human being to [Ayrton] Senna. I think the Brazilians loved that playboy image in the beginning but then they found something a bit more earnest. The thing about Senna is, if you’re going to market the two, he’s probably the easier one to, he’s a bit more wholesome.

But we couldn’t get that into it, and it’s a criticism in Brazil – they just feel, how can you talk about Senna without talking about Piquet. And that’s absolutely fair”.

But Pandey was less interested in another aspect of the story there was much appetite for in Brazil:

“I think the Brazilians also – because they’ve got quite an active tabloid press – they wanted to know why we hadn’t gone into all his girlfriends. And our reaction to that was, well, how would you do it? Do you cut away from a race to a headline in a newspaper?

“Weirdly, I think we were desperately faithful. Because he does come across as a guy for whom, really, motor racing was it. Those girls were interchangeable and that’s the truth of it.

“In the context of a guy who gave his all to become a motor racing driver, I think women, not matter how important they were to him in real life, could only ever have been incidental to him in the film”.

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