In the intricacies of television and film production, exhibitions and events, Alipio Rangel, an experienced administrator and former employee of Renato Aragão Produções, found the seed for his literary debut, “Nos Bastidores da Vida” (Behind the Scenes of Life). In this work of fiction, the author interweaves criticism of Brazilian politics, unveils the hardships of workers in the arts and exposes the contradictions of society, revealing the conflicts of youth through the journey of Dora, the press officer of a renowned actor, Adriano.
In addition to the vicissitudes of her artistic career, the plot delves into Dora’s personal relationships, permeated by romances and internal reflections, painting a panorama of the country’s reality through her characters. This engaging narrative, full of different points of view, mirrors the author’s experiences, offering a unique view of contemporary Brazil. Alipio Rangel, originally from Ceará and currently living in Jundiaí, São Paulo, materializes his experiences and visions in a work that invites reflection on the backstage of life and art in Brazil.
You mentioned that your experiences in the arts inspired “Behind the Scenes of Life”. How did this transition influence the narrative and the construction of the characters in the book?
Excellent question. I’m an extremely intuitive writer, I usually start a book by writing and not doing any prior research, i.e. I just write the first paragraph and the story starts to appear on “paper”. Often the ideas come when I’m asleep, so I wake up and write on any piece of paper or on my cell phone. It also happens that a person or scene from everyday life catches my eye, and I use it to include in the story or enrich a character. Life is my writing laboratory. I often finish writing part of a book today and have no idea what I’m going to write the next day. In the specific case of Behind the Scenes of Life, I swear I started writing without knowing what was going to come out. It was in the day-to-day writing that the characters and story emerged. Of course, I drew on something I’d lived for decades, and that made the creative process easier.
Dora, the protagonist, is romancing her client, a famous actor. How do these intertwined relationships in the artistic world shape the vision that the book seeks to convey about society?
I’d like to remind you that this book was written in 1996, when Brazilian society had a different outlook, very different from what we experience today, thank the gods. Today there is a different way of looking at relationships, and for the better. Nowadays, due to technology, films are produced in less time. In the past, the team almost became a family, because we spent more time with our colleagues at work than with people at home. To be very honest with you and the readers, I haven’t tried to teach society any lessons in terms of relationships. Love can’t be explained, there’s no logic to it, there’s no step-by-step guide to how to act, and that’s the great thing about falling in love or loving someone. Dora and Adriano, despite always having “dr” about what they feel, simply surrender to the feelings that overwhelm them, but without this interfering in their professional relationship. They live for today, and I’m all in favor of literally living in the moment, since the past is gone and the future doesn’t exist, it’s the result of our actions and omissions of what we do or fail to do today.
The book is a critique of Brazilian politics. What specific aspects of contemporary politics do you address in the book, and how is this reflected in the lives of the characters?
I don’t live well with politics, I don’t believe in politicians, I don’t like politicians, I don’t have parties or candidates. I think a country would live better if it had less interference from politicians. The book was a great opportunity to speak ill of this unqualified class that deserves very little respect. I created a play with politics as its theme, and in it I show all the filth of politicians who are always involved in scams and corruption. Dora is the person who represents me, it is through her that I speak. Her father is a former lawyer who was a political prisoner during the dictatorship. I explore this dirty time that our country lived through. It’s a book where I put out all my feelings, which are not good, about politics, which, for me, is a cancer in our society.
Sexuality and its acceptance seem to be important themes in the story, especially through Dora’s relationship with Raquel. What message do you want to convey to readers about these aspects of contemporary life?
Imagine having a homosexual relationship in the 1990s. Today people suffer all kinds of prejudice, many are murdered, thrown out of their homes, considered scum of society… In the 1990s, it was no different. People really had to go into hiding as if they were convicted criminals. Dora and Raquel live this dilemma, they come to consider themselves abnormal people, they feel guilty for being in a relationship. In fact, these are not aspects of contemporary life: love between people of the same sex came into existence along with the existence of humanity, but to this day we have not evolved in this regard. In the middle of 2023, we see trans and homosexual people being disrespected. Religions and, once again, politicians consider them to be outside society, try to link them to the devil, to promiscuity, fight for them not to have minimum rights, deny them the possibility of forming a family. In short, there is no protection for these people from the state, religions or society as a whole, and this makes me very sad. They don’t have the right to lead a normal life. At the time I wrote the book, what I was trying to do was to warn people, to draw society’s attention to what many consider to be a problem. Dora and Raquel suffer a lot because of this relationship.
By setting the plot at the end of the 20th century, what challenges did you face to ensure that the themes addressed remained relevant and relatable to today’s readers?
Although it’s a book from the last century, it’s very topical. I’m trying to show the current generation that some of the problems they’re experiencing today are no different to those that happened more than 40 years ago. How long will Brazil remain stagnant, how many more years will we live with corruption, cheating, homophobia, misogyny, prejudice, hypocrisy…? How can we live in a country where religionists and politicians only look after their own interests?
“Behind the scenes of life” explores the reality of workers in the art world. How do you see the role of art and culture in contemporary Brazilian society?
A country doesn’t exist without education, arts and culture, it’s as simple as that. I often say that, in Brazil, these three little words seem to bring with them a serious and transmissible disease: there is no interest in investing in art and culture. The state and even the private sector don’t give a damn, and what happens is that our people have lost the habit and aren’t interested. Literature feels this omission the most. Every month we see fantastic bookstores closing their doors for lack of visitors, and for what reason? Lack of a reading habit. Many Brazilians have an aversion to books, some are proud to say they’ve never read a book, and that’s terrible.
The military dictatorship is mentioned as a backdrop that affects the characters’ view of politics. How has Brazil’s history shaped the characters and their attitudes towards politics and art?
I was seven years old when the military coup took place and I almost came across it again at 66. I grew up under the dictatorship, saw our artists censored, imprisoned, tortured and expelled from the country for disagreeing with the government, was forbidden to listen to certain songs, to watch plays, to hang out with my college class, because too many students together was already considered a riot. Once again, a shameful “legacy” of politics has brought us: you don’t fight ideas, you don’t declare war on art. In the book, even without going into depth, I try to show the reader the evils that politics is capable of bringing us. I’m totally against compulsory voting, and why doesn’t that change? The characters are my spokespeople, it’s through them that I express myself, they give sound to my clamor.
What was your creative process for developing strong, complex female characters like Dora and Raquel, and what message do you hope these characters will convey to readers?
I’m a man with a feminine soul, and I have the privilege of being an extremely sensitive guy. I’ve heard several people tell me that I can get into the essence of women when I write. The fact that I deeply admire women helps me write about them. Dora and Raquel are fantastic women, brave and sensitive, fighters and fragile, successful and knowledgeable, but who are not valued in society because they are women. Even today, women are mistreated and disrespected, and this is inconceivable. The book values women and praises these wonderful beings. They are fantastic and deserve all the respect and enchantment.
The book balances descriptions, narrations and dialogues from different points of view. How does this narrative structure contribute to a deeper understanding of the plot and the messages it wants to convey?
For me, that’s what literature is all about, not least because life is shaped by descriptions, narratives and conversations. I try to be as simple as possible, I write in a colloquial way, without the reader having to stop reading to look up the meaning of words in the dictionary. Reading is learning, but it’s also fun, a pastime, a journey that never ends. Reading is joy, happiness and ecstasy.
Apart from social and political issues, what are the most personal themes that you would like readers to reflect on after finishing “Behind the Scenes of Life”?
People need to believe in themselves. Each character lives through drama and gets on with their lives. Each character is passionate about their work. Loving what we do, regardless of the profession, is what really counts. How many people earn excellent salaries and are unhappy? Precisely because they don’t like what they do. My characters are ordinary people, with their challenges, their worries, their insecurities, but deep down they are happy. We came into this life not to purge, but to be happy, cheerful, and we can be lively and jovial even if we live with problems. In fact, people who are like this don’t have problems, because they see them as challenges to be overcome and end up overcoming them.
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