Senna and Sensibility

An NRI filmmaker, Manish Pandey, pays tribute to Ayrton Senna through an award-winning documentary

When he was alive, Brazilian driver Ayrton Senna kept the Formula One circuit abuzz by speeding down the tracks and winning one accolade after another, as well as for his bitter rivalry with French champion racer Alain Prost. For an F1 follower, however, Senna's glory is seen through a prism of tragedy, ever since he crashed his car and died while leading the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix in Italy. A documentary, titled Senna, by Manish Pandey is now revisiting the life of the three-time F1 world champion.

"I was a directionless and rebellious teenager growing up in Hampshire, England, and Senna embodied everything that I was facing," says Pandey, 44, a surgeon by training who was born in Shimla and spent five years in Agra before moving to Hampshire. "I grew up in England, while my dad was in the US. Even Senna was an outsider when he arrived in Britain in 1981 as his parents were in Brazil. I was living with my mother and sister, but Senna symbolised what I felt," says Pandey, over phone from London.

Senna, Pandey's debut film, was released over a month ago in the UK, and collected 3 million (approx Rs 21 crore) in its opening weekend, making it the most successful documentary in Britain. Besides its theatrical laurels at Spain, Italy, Germany, Moscow and Adelaide, the 104-minute film won the Audience Award at the Sundance festival, Los Angeles, this year.

The film documents Senna's journey from a 20-year old newcomer to the final race. There is rare video footage of Senna's races and interviews from the archives of F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone. In the film, we see the 1990 Japanese Grand Prix, where Senna tries to overtake Prost on his chicane. But the cars collide and both crash out of the race. The film, says Pandey, is about "a pure man in a very impure world and his journey home to God. When I watch the film, my hero comes alive." He adds that the film is a culmination of six-and-a-half years of seeking permissions.

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