I’m delighted to introduce my new award-winning feature length documentary Ask the Sexpert to Indiaspora blog readers. It’s a film about a highly popular 93-year-old sex advice columnist for a daily newspaper in Mumbai. Despite sex being a taboo topic, the column’s brand of non-moralistic advice and humor has emboldened many to write in with their questions. The columnist gains popularity even while a ban on comprehensive sex education in schools is adopted by approximately one third of India’s states.
In 2012, as an extension of my interest in stories exploring body politics, I became quite interested in the idea of making a documentary film about sex and sexuality in urban India. As someone who was born and raised in India, it felt like a topic that could take us back to the basics. Here was a subject that was most human of all, and yet deeply stigmatized. In the process of debating about the pros and cons of sex education, we often tend to lose the voices in the middle. For the film’s story I sought out spaces where people make their honest and rawest admissions of desire and dilemmas. This led me to the idea of a therapist or a counselor — a place where one would feel like they could benefit from telling the truth, or that at the very least they had nothing to lose.
It didn’t take long to discover Dr. Mahinder Watsa’s iconic and humorous column “Ask the Sexpert” in the Mumbai Mirror which for over ten years has been answering questions from readers daily. Here is a range of some of the questions:
Question: I’m a 19-year-old man. I think my penis grows smaller every time I masturbate. Is this possible?
Response: Masturbation will not make your penis shrink. If it did, your penis would have disappeared a long time ago.
Question: “I’m a 25 year old man. Is there a way of identifying if my fiancé is a virgin? This is an important issue for my family. Please advise.”
Response: “You cannot start your married life with such suspicion. Even if she has had affairs, she can be a good, loyal sexual partner. There is no way to check if she is a virgin. You will just have to believe her.”
Question: My girlfriend, who is 21 years old, makes a lot of noise when we have sex. While I’m glad she enjoys the act, I get very distracted and tend to lose my erection due to it. Do all women moan this loudly? How do I work around this?
Response: Learn to enjoy her pleasure. You could join in the chorus.
For over several decades, 93-year old Dr. Mahinder Watsa has promoted the importance of sexual pleasure, consent and information as a passage to gender equality and health. Within India where there is increasing intolerance, this is no small feat. His overall approach to sex as a “happy event” has won him immense popularity among the public, especially the youth.
For the uninitiated, Dr. Watsa is the most well-known sex advice columnist in the country. He has been featured in interviews by New York Times, Al Jazeera, BBC and called a national treasure by Scroll India. He is also a former President of Family Planning Association of India and started India’s first official sex education effort for adolescents in the 1970s.
Ask the Sexpert released in 2017 at the Hot Docs Film Festival and has traveled extensively. The film received a standing ovation at the recently concluded Mumbai Film Festival (MAMI) and won the best documentary award at the New Orleans Film Festival.
Ultimately Ask the Sexpert is a universal story about desire and the human need for communication. The film’s universality is one of the reasons why it is supported largely by Public Broadcasting System in the US for its relevance even in American culture.
An hour-long version of the film will air in the US on PBS in 2018. Upcoming festivals include the Mumbai International Film Festival Jan. 28 – Feb 3, the MASS MoCA Documentary Film Series March 29th, and the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival in Mumbai Feb. 3 – 11. Additional film festival screening dates are available at www.askthesexpertmovie.com.
The film was recently launched earlier this month on Netflix India and is currently rated as one of the top 4 choices on Netflix by NDTV.
We would love to bring this film to theaters in major US cities, especially those with significant Indian-American representation! If you’d like to support this effort, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
Vaishali Sinha is the Co-Director/Producer of the feature documentary MADE IN INDIA about the personal stories behind the phenomenon of outsourcing surrogate mothers to India. The film premiered at Hot Docs Film Festival as a festival favorite, has been the winner of several awards and aired on television in the US in 2012. MADE IN INDIA was nominated for the Ridenhour Prize for excellence in truth-telling.
ASK THE SEXPERT is her second feature documentary film and a presentation by her company Coast to Coast Films. Vaishali has received support for her films from; ITVS, MacArthur Foundation, Tribeca Film Institute, Catapult Fund, Chicken & Egg Pictures, Firelight Media, Playboy Foundation, The Fledgling Fund, Center for Asian American Media, Nextpix, Mozilla and more.
Vaishali speaks regularly at events and has acted as jury member at film festivals. She currently resides in Brooklyn with her NY with her husband Fred Lassen, a Music Director and their three-year-old son Luca.