A new documentary focuses on a 91-year-old doctor as the unlikely hero who is saving Indians from wrong or poor knowledge about sex.
“Ask the Sexpert” follows Dr Mahinder Watsa as he potters about his Mumbai apartment, peers at his computer and reads emails that tells him, among others, about someone with a compulsive habit of adding urine to his tea.
The film, which will be screened at the Mumbai Film Festival this year, was shot over four years by film-maker Vaishali Sinha and is a wonderful peek into the life of a columnist who has increasingly become part of pop culture in India’s financial capital, where his column is published in the Mumbai Mirror newspaper.
The column, a small strip in the inside pages that is featured every day, has three or four questions, mostly revolving around size, girth and how not to get pregnant. Watsa answers even the most outlandish questions with deadpan humour and in doing so, has found fans all over the city and beyond.
In the film, Sinha captures how young girls and their mothers gush over Watsa’s column, tell him how much they appreciate what he is doing and then line up to click selfies with him.
Sinha set out to make a film on Indians talking about sex because “it is the most universally shared experience.”
“While researching a character for a film idea on urban sexuality, I first met Dr. Watsa in early 2013. I pretty much knew immediately after my first meeting with him that I had found the character for my film,” Sinha told Reuters in an email interview.
The anti-thesis to Watsa in the film emerges in the form of Pratibha Naithani, a professor in a top Mumbai college who says she is on a mission to protect Indian culture. Naithani is mortified by Watsa’s matter-of-fact advice to people on all matters sexual, saying he openly encourages promiscuity.
Sinha said she didn’t start off trying to pit Naithani against Watsa, but added the college professor emerged as the “other camp” quite naturally.
“I didn’t choose Pratibha, her work chose me. A lot around the story lines I was exploring had ties to her or led to her and so her name would crop up to a point I couldn’t ignore. The petition for the banning of the 2009 nationwide sex education curriculum was one example. And it felt necessary that I reach out to her,” Sinha said.
The documentary features interviews with Watsa’s friends and family, but the camera mostly follows him as he goes about his day. He peers at his computer with a magnifying glass, attends seminars on sex education and counsels patients who come to him after having read his column.
Sinha said making the film made her aware that Indians are willing to talk about sex even if it was to reveal their lack of experience and knowledge, something that is evident from the kind of questions Watsa gets on a daily basis.
“I found out that for all the paranoia around ‘too much sex’, there are many, many people in between, living within a spectrum of sexual experiences and highs and lows. With that comes questions that are necessary to be talked about and discussed to alleviate stress and anxiety in society,” she said.
To many readers, Watsa is that person –who listens to their deepest, darkest problems without judging; and providing the answers that come without the baggage of all the taboos that still surround sexual behavior in India.