Mumbai, 16 Oct 2017 11:05 IST
Updated: 26 Oct 2017 13:15 IST
Filmmaker Vaishali Sinha doles out an entertaining, informative film on the man who helps you regain your libido.
A country with a population of over 1.3 billion surely knows about the birds and the bees, but does India talk adequately and appropriately about sex? For a country that gave the world the Kamasutra, sex remains a taboo subject. Sexual texts often come in the form of titillating fantasies. Unfortunately, sex education, too, gets clubbed with perverse jokes, failing to penetrate society's conscience.
In 2005, a newly launched Mumbai tabloid began offering a sex advisory column, ‘Ask the sexpert’. At first, I was hesitant to read it. 'Morality' abhors sexual conversations in public. However, the curious cat in me eventually submitted to Dr Mahinder Watsa’s column. As a bachelor (and still single), I was amused by some of the pubescent questions. With time, the nature of queries changed and one thought this was largely a piece of fiction and so I discontinued reading it. In Dr Watsa’s parlance, that was akin to undergoing a vasectomy.
Forward to 2017, and memories were unzipped by a documentary aptly titled Ask The Sexpert. It doesn’t just capture the history of the column, but, more importantly, covers the journey of Watsa as a sex education expert.
Unheralded filmmaker Vaishali Sinha, who had co-directed the 2010 documentary Made In India, was creatively aroused by the story of Dr Watsa. Now 93 and still pursuing his sex education column with the mojo of a potent alpha male, Dr Watsa comes across as a man who is not only good at his craft, but also has the sense of humour required to handle something so, er, delicate. And indeed it is his sense of humour that form the backbone of this film. Despite the hilarity of some questions that are put to him, Dr Watsa never loses his bearing and answers most with aplomb, with large dollops of humour.
Mahinder Watsa began writing sex education columns back in the 1960s. Lack of video footage prevents Sinha from tapping into that era, so much of the film is contemporary in nature. Sinha began documenting Dr Watsa's work two years ago. On paper, 'Ask the sexpert' seems like safe sex, but little does the layman know how the column survived scrutiny from India's omnipresent moral police.
Waging war against 'Ask the sexpert' and Dr Watsa was professor and activist Pratibha Naitthani, who believes such columns only trivialize sex with the absurd reader queries. You may or may not agree with her, but Naitthani deserves credit for agreeing to air her opposition to Dr Watsa's column in a documentary on Dr Watsa. She is not the villain here, but what would a documentary be without a difference of opinion? Naitthani’s ideology fails to dampen Watsa’s spirits, as he is more keen on solving people’s sexual woes.
The column apart, Sinha does well to tap into the good doctor's personal space. The 93-year-old widower has no qualms admitting that he couldn’t give enough time to his late wife Promila. For all his expertise in solving other people’s sexual problems, Dr.Watsa seldom discussed this aspect with his own wife.
Watsa's relationship with son Gautam goes off on a tangent. Watsa seems most comfortable when bombarded with hundreds of e-mails, and in the company of his young assistant, a woman. Without being too intrusive, Sinha succeeds in capturing all this. She is blessed that Watsa is still around to narrate his ‘Ask the sexpert’ story. There is no pretence on the part of the doctor, or the others, to make it sound like a vanity fair. Watsa cherishes the good wishes of his readers, his customers, but to him it is no big deal. “It’s okay,” he says simply as he underplays his own feat.
The criticism of the film, as it was with the column, is: does it really promote sex education? The asburd questions that take the sheen away from the 'Ask the sexpert' column are present in the film as well. A goofy impotent man’s grieving tale at the fag end of the documentary, though amusing, appears too good to be true. So, too, is the fan moment of a 27-year-old Mumbai woman who bumps into the veteran on the street. Dr Watsa may be revered by his patients, but seeing a 27-year-old go gaga on meeting him is a bit, well, hard to take. GenNext is certainly likely to have read the column, but to the best of our knowledge, rarely, if ever, has the column been published with the author's picture.
The debate over whether the column promotes sex education will linger as long as the column continues. Dr Watsa himself feels that there ought to be more hands at work to effect a change. What is certain, though, is that Dr Mahinder Watsa’s rousing story penetrates your morality. If you have experienced loss of libido at any time, then come out of your closet, shun the social stigma, and just reach out to the sexpert.
Ask The Sexpert was screened at the 19th MAMI Mumbai Film Festival on 14 October 2017.