Tuesday, July 15 1997

Sex, scandal and slavery spice Brazil's hottest soap opera


RIO DE JANEIRO, July 14: Casting Italian porn star Cicciolina as an 18th century prostitute complete with nude scenes might seem a tad spicy for prime-time family television.

But on the Brazilian soap opera, Xica Da Silva, topless is downright tame.

After all, the show already featured an inter-racial love affair between master and slave, sadism, rape, cannibalism, devil-worshipping nuns and a gay man whose sexuality changes after a black magic ``snake bath''. Real animals were tortured and killed on-screen.

Where does Xica (pronounced Shee-Kah) draw the line? Well, the 18-year-old star, Tais Araujo, balked at a sodomy scene. And the Catholic church pressured the network to drop scenes of a nun orgy, scheduled to air on Easter week.

The show continues to test the limits of what is permissible on Brazilian television and win viewers for TV Manchete, the nation's third-largest network.

``The scandals are part of the marketing when you work at a network with traditionally low ratings. You have to generate interest,'' explains Walter Avancini, the soap's director.

In much of Latin America, the ratings war is a battle of `novelas' as the prime-time soaps are known. And Avancini is widely credited with raising Manchete from fifth place among Brazilian networks into contention for the No 2 spot.

Xica Da Silva gets an average 12 per cent share of the viewing audience, considered excellent in a market dominated by giant TV Globo, the world's fourth-largest network.

The novela is based loosely on the life of Xica Da Silva, a slave during the colonial era diamond boom in Brazil's backwoods. The all-powerful delegate of the Portuguese king became infatuated with her and made her one of the colony's most powerful women.

``Xica Da Silva fought against false morality and was probably the first feminist,'' said Avancini, calling the novela, ``a serious discussion about human behaviour in 18th century Brazil''.

Xica began generating controversy even before its debut. By picking 17-year-old Tais Araujo to play the sensual Xica, Avancini got reams of publicity about her impending nude scenes and whether he would violate a ban on minors appearing nude.

Araujo finally shed her clothes on November 28, 1996 three days after her 18th birthday. That started a new uproar: how could the scenes get on the air so quickly unless they were shot when she was still 17?

Another contested choice and marketing coup was the casting of Adriane Galisteu, the girlfriend of Brazil's late auto racing champion Ayrton Senna.

In her first outing as an actress, Araujo didn't mind the sexy scenes when she was barely known. Her sudden coyness coincided with a contract offer from powerful Globo. ``I don't know if that's why it happened, I think it has more to do with her immaturity, her infantile side,'' he said. ``All the same, I think we owe the novela's success to her''. For Avancini, his star could take a lesson from Cicciolina. ``Cicciolina was an absolute professional,'' he said. ``She came, did her work and everyone had to cover her -- even Globo''.

Copyright © 1997 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.

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