Film on India’s 93-year-old sexologist to premiere at Hot Docs festival | world cinema | Hindustan Times
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Film on India’s 93-year-old sexologist to premiere at Hot Docs festival

Three movies based in India and featuring an eclectic cast of characters, from a 93-year-old sexologist to a six-year-old reincarnated as a rinpoche, will feature in North America’s largest documentary film festival.

world cinema Updated: Apr 25, 2017 17:27 IST
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
A still from the film Becoming Who I Was, which will be screened at Hot Docs, North America’s largest documentary film festival.
A still from the film Becoming Who I Was, which will be screened at Hot Docs, North America’s largest documentary film festival.(Courtesy Hot Docs)

From a six-year-old reincarnated as a rinpoche to a 93-year-old counselling on matters sexual, the 2017 version of Hot Docs, North America’s largest documentary film festival, features an eclectic cast of characters in three films that are located in India.

These films, among a total of 230 documentaries from 58 countries, will screen at the 11-day festival that starts on Thursday. Among them is Ask The Sexpert, about Mahinder Watsa, based in Mumbai and renowned (and reviled by some) for a column offering advice on sexuality and the author of the work of non-fiction, It’s Normal!

The feature-length documentary looks at how the nonagenarian delves into topics considered taboo by conservatives, filling a vacuum left by lack of sex education and limning his story with humour.

A still from the film Ask The Sexpert, based on 93-year-old Indian sexologist Mahinder Watsa, which will have its world premiere at the Hot Docs festival. (Courtesy Hot Docs)

The film starts with Watsa, considered one of India’s foremost sexologists, responding to an emailed query from a girl asking if her boyfriend wearing two condoms will give more protection from STDs and pregnancy.

Watsa’s response: “Two condoms are more unsafe than one, they tend to break with the friction, so one condom used properly is safer.”

The film is directed by New York-based Vaishali Sinha, who was born in Mumbai and has worked on films on sexual and reproductive rights and health. She “thought it would be fun to make a sex film” and Watsa’s work offered “a refreshing premise”.

Vaishali Sinha, director of the documentary Ask The Sexpert, which will have its world premiere at the Hot Docs festival. (Courtesy Hot Docs)

Producer Mridu Chandra was attracted to the subject because it is “inherently interesting” and since “young people want answers” not available through traditional channels.

Watsa receives between 60 and 65 queries each day, and faces a charge of obscenity brought by an activist who considers his advice “disastrous”. Made candidly, with segments featuring clients consulting him in his home-office, the movie takes a light approach to a significant issue.

“It’s a really smart look at the tension between tradition and modernity that I think exists in modern day India, embodied in this character, this great subject,” said Shane Smith, Hot Docs’ director of programming.

Ask The Sexpert will have its world premiere at the festival and Watsa will make an appearance via Skype.

Sinha believes Watsa may be in the midst of “his most career-defining work” at this time. Smith marvelled about “this no-nonsense 90-year-old doctor who the younger generation of millennials just loves because he’s so open and candid”.

If the mild-mannered Watsa has wisdom and expertise to impart, young Padma Angdu is the reincarnation of a revered Tibetan monk in a Korean film set in Ladakh that follows his quest for a monastery.

A still from the film Becoming Who I Was. (Courtesy Hot Docs)

The filmmakers track the young rinpoche over eight years and the film, Becoming Who I Was, also explores the guidance provided by his elderly godfather. The region’s rugged vistas serve as the backdrop for this special presentation.

Smith said, “The film is intimate yet epic – finding out who you are through the lens of reincarnation, so essentially who you were. I think it’s one of the most beautiful films in the festival this year.”

A still from the Indian documentary film Machines. (Courtesy Hot Docs)

Also showing is Machines, directed by Rahul Jain and part of the festival’s World Showcase, which tracks workers in a huge textile factory in Gujarat. Smith described it as a “powerful, observational look” at “the sort of soullessness, the repetition, the inequality and oppression” the workers face, with “cinematography and sound contrasting the human toil with the never-stopping, never-ending rhythm of the machines that they are working on”.