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‘Ask the Sexpert’ – Living and loving in India (just don’t talk about it)

‘Ask the Sexpert’ – Living and loving in India (just don’t talk about it)

Film tackles taboo subject in the home of the Karma Sutra…

SEX is a tricky subject at the best of times, pretty much anywhere, but in India, it assumes a whole other level.

On the one hand, India is relatively liberal – watch any masala type Bollywood movie and you get a picture of a country that likes beautiful people (and their bodies) and flaunting it.

On the other hand, the mere mention of the subject, especially in polite and refined circles, will draw a distinct and uncomfortable silence.

It is really something ‘other’ people do and talk about and we don’t really like it – even in a medical context – so please keep your thoughts to yourself and be quiet (or shut up, as the more strident would assert).

Vaishali Sinha

Director Vaishali Sinha’s sixth film, ‘Ask the Sexpert’, which had its European premiere at Sheffield Doc Fest (June 9-14) 2017, drives right into this unusual and quite possibly, unique dichotomy. In no other country do such extremes or contradictions exist, surely?

At a post Sheffield Doc Fest screening, Sinha told “For me the curiosity was that I wanted to make a film about sex.”

Born in India and educated in Mumbai till she left for the US in 2004, she knew it was a subject she wanted to explore as a documentary filmmaker.

“Initially, I was interested in sex therapists and I thought I would find a semi quack and follow him and his clients over time, but a lot of them had disappeared due to real estate prices going up – and then during my preliminary research I came across Dr Mahinder Watsa.”

He’s the sexpert of the film and in some respects, an unlikely candidate. He is 91 (now 93), a doctor, and was widowed some years back.

“It was no longer going to be a film just about some random sex therapist – he became the story for me,” asserted Sinha.

Dr Watsa is the man behind the very popular Mumbai Mirror newspaper column, Ask the Sexpert.

A retired gynaecologist, he worked in Manchester in 1950s but returned to India and played a very active part in public health policy and provision.

He is a respected figure in the medical and health fields in India, and has been an active champion of sex education there for a long time.

Dr Mahinder Watsa

A few years ago, under a different government, the idea of a comprehensive sex education syllabus was floated – it proved hugely controversial and roused opposition from many conservative groups.

Sinha’s film covers this – interviewing a charming sari-clad political science professor who takes Dr Watsa and the paper to court for what amounts to ‘indecency’ (for discussing sexual matters in a newspaper) – but it is not the main part of the film.

That is occupied by Dr Watsa and his clients – he runs a clinic – and his answers to the sometimes very bizarre questions he receives (via email).

“It took me a while to convince him that I could film him and his clients – I am really interested in conversations that unfold in front of our eyes – you cannot predict it and that is life and you see him at his craft and at his best,” explained Sinha.

You don’t see the clients’ faces but you do get a privileged peek into some people’s sex lives in Sinha’s film.

There’s nothing very graphic – though there are some (medical-type) illustrations some might find uncomfortable.

Sinha already has a distribution deal and some of the funding come through public grants available through ITVS in the US, with the rest privately raised.

For anyone interested in India and its rather Jekyll & Hyde attitude towards sex, this is a good watch: entertaining, informative, funny (some of those questions!) and does have a strong point to make.

“I basically wanted to make a film about human experience that is being controlled and wanted to make a film with positive conversations about sex.”

Sinha hopes it will screen in India and isn’t expecting any problems with the certification (read censor) board.

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture