directed by Vaishali Sinha
Hot Docs, the Canadian International Documentary Festival, runs April 27-May 7, 2017 at Toronto's Bloor Cinema. Visit the fest's official site for more details.
by Bill Chambers This is a breezy, lighthearted documentary that nevertheless had me on pins and needles from the moment it introduced an antagonist. Former gynaecologist Dr. Mahinder Watsa, the eponymous "sexpert," is India's answer to Dr. Ruth. At 91, he writes a popular advice column for the MUMBAI MIRROR and continues to see patients as a sex therapist, sometimes off the street without an appointment--to the consternation of his children, who worry their widower father's fame, age, and gregariousness could attract ne'er-do-wells. Watsa's a hip dude unfazed by the most cartoonishly filthy questions, the only guy who laughed during a medical conference when a gay doctor facetiously proposed a drug that turns heterosexuals into homosexuals. The kids love him (though some who've never put a face to the name would be stunned to learn how old he is) and Penguin's publishing a book of his material, but he has a particularly vocal detractor in political science professor Dr. Pratiba Naitthani, who says by way of introduction, "I always used to be the monitor of the class. The best person is always the monitor." (Thank you, Judy Hensler.) She's filed an obscenity claim against Watsa's column on the grounds that it's smut in a publication that isn't designated smut, out of sight from minors--and if you think that's reasonable, know that she also objects to diagrams of the human anatomy appearing in classrooms. She's maddeningly obtuse; she asks rhetorically why after thousands of years the civilized world suddenly needs to know about birth control while living in the second-most overpopulated country on Earth. Though Naitthani imposes a lot of dread on the film as both she and Watsa keep checking up on her case, her dissenting voice underscores the value and urgency of Watsa's work. Abstinence-only education of the kind Naitthani endorses doesn't stop teenagers from having sex, it just makes them practise it in ignorance, putting their health and safety at risk. One young man admits that prior to discovering Watsa he didn't even know whether sex is something that's given or taken by force. Yeesh. Naitthani has a humanizing scene where she volunteers that although it looks to us and her mother like she lives alone, her busyness is a constant bedfellow. "I really don't know what's wrong with me," she blurts out with an incredulous laugh. Perhaps she should ask the sexpert.