Hot Docs 2017: Ask The Sexpert

Ask_the_Sexpert_1

When Dr. Mahinder Watsa was starting out his career as a doctor, he wrote a medical column in the back of a ladies’ journal. At the time, young women were dying from back-alley abortions while others committed suicide, unwilling to let their prospective husbands know they were not virgins (due to sexual abuse). Dr. Watsa knew then that there was a problem in India. He wasn’t particularly specialized in human sexuality, but through research, hard work, and years of experience, he made himself so. He was a pioneer of human sexuality education in India, a position still necessary today when many provinces still ban sex education in schools, and a position that he still occupies at the age of 91. With teachers unable and parents unwilling to discuss sexuality, there’s a huge chasm of ignorance in India, and Dr. Watsa is still doing his best to fill it.

I find it utterly impossible not to be charmed by Dr. Watsa and, by extension, by this documentary by Vaishali Sinha. A newspaper sex column, seen as a lark in the lifestyle section of our newspapers, a laugh on late night TV, is vitally important in a country like India. Dr. Watsa writes plainly, even conversationally, to his readers with honesty, openness, and precision – three things otherwise completely missing from the field. This is astounding considering they are confronted by the same internet porn and HBO programming that we are, and yet are completely in the dark about even the basics of reproduction let alone pleasure. What a 10-year-old Canadian could answer here, a mother of 4 may be mystified with over there. Of course, it isn’t just ignorance but shame and fear that keep this subject deeply shrouded. It’s discouraging to see the mountain yet to  be climbed, but Sinha instead heartens us with the people at the forefront of this movement toward education.

Dr. Watsa is a humble figure, unassuming and prone to humour.  He knows his work is important but seems a little struck by his own inadequacy, likening his column to a “drop in the ocean.” In a country of over a billion in population, sex is definitely happening if not openly discussed – or admitted to. Dr. Watsa is a bright light. As a good director, Vaishali Sinha knows that every hero needs a good villain, and he has one: a woman hellbent on inflicting her own “moral” standards on everyone else, and not afraid to take the matter to the courts. Indeed, at the age of 91, both Dr. Watsa and the newspaper he writes for, the Mumbai Mirror, are charged with obscenity, with Dr. Watsa possibly facing jail time if convicted.

This is a fascinating documentary. Sinha has found a brilliant subject and has the good sense to stick with him. I’m positive that he will endear audiences near and far.

Screens:
Monday, May 1, 9:00 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox
Tuesday, May 2, 4:30 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox
Wednesday, May 3, 3:00 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox

Tickets can be purchased at the Hot Docs website.