Ask the Sexpert
4/21/18, 1:15-3:15 pm
ASK THE SEXPERT is a feature length documentary about a highly popular 90-year-old sex advice columnist for a daily newspaper in Mumbai. Despite sex being a taboo topic in that country, the column’s brand of non-moralistic advice and humor has emboldened many to write in with their questions, the vast majority of whom seek basic information. The columnist gains popularity even while a ban on comprehensive sex education in schools is adopted by approximately one third of India’s states.
Vaishali Sinha Co-Directed/Produced 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 and aired on PBS in 2012. The film received several Jury awards at festivals and is currently a case study at Harvard Business School for their class on ethics.
ASK THE SEXPERT is Vaishali’s second feature length documentary; a presentation by her company Coast to Coast Films.
Vaishali has also produced numerous shorts. She has received support for her films from ITVS, the MacArthur Foundation, Tribeca Film Institute, Catapult Fund, Firelight Media, Playboy Foundation, Chicken & Egg Pictures, The Fledgling Fund, Center for Asian American Media, Mozilla, Ford Foundation, Nextpix and more.
Vaishali also freelances at Videoline Productions founded by Peabody award-winning filmmaker Richard Wormser (Rise and Fall of Jim Crow). Vaishali speaks regularly at events and has acted as jury member at film festivals. In the past she has worked with women’s right group Point of View, in Mumbai. She is originally from Mumbai, and now resides in Brooklyn, NY with her husband Fred Lassen, a Music Director and their two-year-old son Luca.
I was born and raised in Mumbai. The exploration of issues around women’s sexuality and rights has been an area of interest in my films. In 2012, as an extension of my work, I became quite interested in the idea of making a film that would look at male sexuality through the lens of a therapist or a counselor. I figured that’s the one safe and confidential space where many Indians would feel most honest and open about divulging their feelings about sex and sexuality, since it has been such taboo topic for so long. So much so, in 2009 the proposed curriculum for sex education in schools was banned in several Indian states.
Dr. Mahinder Watsa, a household name, especially in Mumbai, due to his popular sex advice column, immediately became the subject that this film had to revolve around.
Ask the Sexpert presents a portrait of Dr. Mahinder Watsa, an iconic figure from the field of sexuality in India and a man “on the edge of becoming a national treasure” according to Scroll India, currently in the midst of his most career-defining work. At once essential and controversial within the Indian context, his work is a lens into a larger society and presents a raw and honest picture of sexuality in urban India.
In December 2012, the topic of sexuality in India received tremendous attention due to the brutal gang rape and murder of a Delhi woman. Today, as Indians discuss women’s safety, a powerful conservative movement blames sexual openness as a key reason for sexual violence. For over several decades, the 93-year old Dr. Mahinder Watsa has promoted the importance of sexual pleasure, consent and information as a passage to gender equality and health.
Ultimately ASK THE SEXPERT reveals real questions people face universally about their body and sexuality.
Dr. Mahinder Watsa is a retired gynecologist. He has been a practicing sexual consultant and counselor since the 1970s. Straight out of medical school, Dr. Watsa began a career as a columnist in the 1960s when, in his late 30s, he was asked to start writing a medical advice column for a women's magazine. At first the letters were of general nature but soon he started receiving letters from across India where women talked about molestation, rapes or exes showing up at their doorstep threatening to tell the husband they had sexual relations before marriage. Immediately he realized there was a huge gap where people couldn’t talk about sexual issues. Recognizing the need for education, in the 1970s, Dr. Watsa switched from gynecology into sex education and sex therapy.
A consultant for the Family Planning Association of India, he convinced them to open India’s first sex education cell, SCERT, a national wide effort to hold sex educational programs in schools. In 1976 he organized India’s first ever workshop on human sexuality which trained and emboldened many of India’s pioneers in the field of sexual health and rights, bringing respectability to the profession of sexual health studies. He went on to become the President of the Family Planning Association of India. Among several other distinctions he has been the recipient of a Gold Medal from the World Association of Sexologists for outstanding lifetime achievement award for recognition in sexology. He has been the author and editor of several path breaking first books in India including the book “Teenagers Ask - The Doctor Answers”. “The parent, teacher and Adolescent” – a flipbook.
He continued authoring health columns for several women's magazines, such as Femina, Flair, and Trend, into the 1970s until he encountered resistance from an editor who insisted upon censoring queries about sexual health. Watsa however maintained his writing through numerous alternative outlets including men's magazines (such as 'Fantasy') and, later, websites. For the past 10 years he has been contributing in a daily column “Ask the Sexpert" in the Times of India's supplement -Mumbai Mirror, Bangalore Mirror and Ahmedabad Mirror. Till date he has answered more than 30,000 questions. Over the nine years he has been writing the daily column, by his editor’s estimate, he has received upward of 40,000 letters seeking advice on sexual problems, the vast majority seeking basic information. Largely he has been an influential voice in myth busting basic myths around masturbation, questions related to the size of the penis and questions about women’s sexuality. He has been called “India’s most useful feminist” by Live Mint, India.
For the last several years, Dr. Mahinder Watsa through his Ask the Sexpert column, has been offering advise to thousands of individuals that reach out to him for answers to their sexual queries. He has built a reputation for himself using humor, dry wit and some hard-hitting truths to address the constant flow of mail. Questions range from the outrageous to ignorant to but he takes it all in his stride and at 93 years.
Adding to the many things he has done, in the 1960s he even lived in the UK for a few years with his wife Promila and son Gautam. Watsa worked in the UK as a hospital houseman and registrar and has many stories of his time there. They returned to India when his father fell ill.
Director - Vaishali Sinha
Producers – Vaishali Sinha, Mridu Chandra
Executive Producer for ITVS – Sally Jo Fifer
Production Company - Coast to Coast Films LLC
Editors - Myles Kane & Ashish Ravinran
Cinematographer - Anup Singh
MacArthur Foundation, ITVS, Catapult Fund, Tribeca Film Institute, Firelight Media
World Premiere – Hot Docs International Film Festival, 2017
European Premiere – Sheffield DocFest
Australian Premiere - Melbourne International Film Festival
US Premiere - New Orleans Film Festival, October 2017
Hot Docs showcase at Bertha DocHouse, UK
Bergen International Film Festival, September 2017
Polish Premiere – Warsaw Film Festival 2017
NYC Premiere – DOC NYC
Asian Premiere – MAMI, Mumbai 2017
Cambridge Film Festival 2017
Oslo – Film from the South Festival 2017
International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam 2017
River to River Film Festival, Florence 2017
Best Feature Documentary award – New Orleans Film Festival 2017