Melbourne Film Festival Review: Ask the Sexpert (USA, 2017) is a surprisingly funny, frank & fascinating discussion about sex

You may not be familiar with the name, Dr. Mahinder Watsa but to many people he could be “Dr Love.” This nonagenarian is a former gynaecologist turned sexologist and author of a daily column in the Mumbai Mirror. Ask The Sexpert is an intimate portrait of this charming, progressive and wise old man who will leave people thinking of him as the “Good doctor.”

India is an interesting country when it comes to the matter of sex and relationships. For some of the population of over a billion people sex is still considered a rather taboo subject for discussion. As a result of this, myths and superstitions can be rife and sex education is often completely non-existent. For many people, someone like Dr. Watsa is a godsend because he answers the questions they send into the newspaper (he receives around 65 each day) and they include a range of different topics like: masturbation, penis size, pregnancy, contraception, pleasure, sex and sometimes even the basics of human anatomy.

Dr. Watsa is a fantastic talent who is incredibly endearing and watchable. He responds to the questions he receives in a direct manner and with frequent dashes of his wry sense of humour. This is a breath of fresh air in a country which still possesses draconian indecency laws (one scene in the film shows some young couples arrested by overzealous police for simple public displays of affection and others caught up in what should have been the privacy of their hotel rooms.) Dr. Watsa does not moralise and judge and he also doesn’t take himself too seriously. This helps in the face of his detractors because he appears wise, kind and progressive while those opposing come across as being ignorant, out-of-touch or refusing to remove their heads from the sand.

One of Watsa’s biggest detractors is Dr. Pratibha Naitthani who has filed indecency charges against him. The results of these are still pending and this documentary presents her side of the story for balance. While she sounds like she does some admirable work for women and children in other domains, her ideas about sex education and teaching teenagers abstinence seem quite ill-informed. In fact, they will probably leave most viewers thinking of Helen Lovejoy on The Simpsons demanding, “Won’t somebody think of the children?!”

Ask The Sexpert is directed by documentarian, Vaishali Sinha and is a fascinating portrait of this pioneer in industry. For over 40 years Watsa has worked to educate and inform people. His responses illuminate the importance of consent and the fact that he champions women in a society rife with misogyny is reassuring and confirms how incredibly important his work is. So too are his efforts to reassure people about what’s normal, calling out what isn’t and just being an all-round good bloke, a sweet and kind widower with oodles of positivity and patience.

Ask The Sexpert is an illuminating documentary and essential viewing for everyone. It’s a film that should break down some barriers or at least challenge some taboos about sex and enable people to have honest and frank discussions about such a significant topic in society. This film straddles the lines between being sensitive and respectful to the subject matter as well as allowing the content to speak for itself by being light in and not taking itself too seriously in the moments where it’s appropriate. And at the end of the day it’s a discussion that is full of candour and goodwill, just like Watsa himself.

Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

The Melbourne International Film Festival is running from the 3rd to the 20th of August. Ask The Sexpert screens on the 6th and the 19th of August. For tickets and more details head HERE.