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Sheffield Doc Fest 2018: ‘Boys who like girls’ – Young Indian men tackle scourge of violence and abuse against women

Sheffield Doc Fest 2018: ‘Boys who like girls’ – Young Indian men tackle scourge of violence and abuse against women

Documentary about how some young Indian men are being educated to think completely differently about women…

REMEMBER the Nirbhaya (‘fearless’) rape case?

How the fatal sex attack on a young Indian woman on board a private bus in Delhi in December 2012 sent shockwaves around the world, not just in India.

Now in a time when #MeToo and #TimesUp focus on sexual harassment in the West (mostly as it is a campaign in these parts) comes a documentary which is a sort of cultural bridge between the two.

Made with mainly European finance and a collaborative filming effort between India and Finland, ‘Boys who like girls’ examines gender relations in India (Mumbai to be precise) and homes in on those men who actively fight patriarchy and sexism in India.

The nearly 70-minute or so film enjoyed a world premiere at Sheffield Doc Fest on Saturday (June 9) and screens again on the final afternoon of the five-day festival on Tuesday (June 12), 4.30pm.

Aspar learns about gender representation in the media

It focuses on a community campaign group in Mumbai called Men Against Abuse and Violence (Mava) and looks at three men all differently connected to the group. The organisation combats sexism and notions of toxic masculinity through education, street theatre and one-to-one and group involvement. We follow their story with one main character called Ved and his mentor Aspar and Harish.

Harish is an Indian man in his 50s who appears to be the driving force behind Mava and believes passionately in its cause; Aspar is a sensitive and attuned volunteer mentor. In some guises, he looks like a social worker and offers wider support to Ved who lives in a slum area and is subject to abuse from an alcoholic father. We never see him but there are touching scenes where we see Ved and his mother discuss gender issues.

The film is a fascinating and privileged insight into the way some young Indian men are changing their ways and no longer regarding women as there only to serve them and other men.

Finnish director Inka Achté (pictured right above), whose debut documentary feature this is and who has worked in Finnish TV for 10 years and a Finnish TV academy award, told that she became interested in what was happening in India in the aftermath of the Delhi rape case.

Achté, who has an MA from the National School of Television and Film in the UK, explained what inspired her to make a film about the Indian situation.

“I was following the reporting around the infamous New Delhi gang rape case known as Nirbhaya, and I discovered that there were demonstrations organised by men, where they were expressing their judgement against violence towards women.

Mava uses exercises to challenge existing thinkng

“As I delved deeper, I found out that there were wider movements going on in India where men were also challenging what we now call ‘toxic masculinity’ and questioning rigid, damaging gender roles. I found this incredibly relieving and healing as woman.”

She said she had always been slightly disappointed by the reaction of men to women’s causes and found Mava and its work in India, inspirational in the wider sense of trying to engage men in countering misogyny, sexism and patriarchy.

Ved comes from a difficult home background but decides with the support of Mava to take a radical step – instead of leaving school at the first opportunity (like many of his contemporaries) he determines to get himself a higher education – something no one in his family has done.

He also finds dance and the film charts both the ups and downs Ved has with Mava – it doesn’t avoid showing Ved can be conflicted and introduces us to Aspar, who is a powerful and positive influence.

Achté said she wanted to follow a journey of Ved.

“I knew that by following a teenager who actually takes part in the workshops, I could get a sense of the society undergoing a change, to get a sense of the future being shaped and also that they would most likely be in the crux, in the crossing point of old and new (i.e. they may have a father who was old fashioned while being exposed to the influence of these forward-thinking mentors),”

Much of Harish’s time (as shown in the film) is taken up seeking out potential donors and sponsors – he even travels to a women’s conference in Scandinavia, hoping to secure long term funding, but because Mava doesn’t fit into the usual European funding criteria (loosely) of being a women’s group, he has few, if any takers.

Achté said the film will be shown for educational purposes in both India and Finland and will travel to other festivals over the summer.

“We are eagerly waiting for interested parties to contact us for more opportunities to screen the film. I hope Sheffield will bring more such opportunities,” she told us over email.

Boys who like girls’ is very watchable film and, in some ways, very telling. On the surface not much has changed in India, since the Nirbhaya case but some Indian men have reacted – and are positively arguing for change and equality. The film’s strength is in presenting the full picture through Aspar and the very particular pressures he is under simply to conform.
Mava changes the way Aspar and others think – but the film doesn’t gloss over possible contradictions and gaps – in one scene Aspar and a friend are filmed chatting up two girls on Marine Drive (a common spot for lovers, and the like) but the exchange is friendly and the girls appear comfortable, in the end.
Obviously, you can ask how staged this was and whether the filmmakers were trying to show how young men should approach women in that sort of scenario…the initial banter isn’t all that benign and both parties are suspicious and tentative. It is these kinds of scenes and a very uplifting arc that give this film its power and strength and a fist bump and credit to Achté and Mava for showing there can be and is another way – and attempting to change attitudes at the grassroots level and showing such a movement exists in India.
ACV rating: *** (out of five)

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture