Review: Boys Who Like Girls
by Vladan Petkovic
- Finnish filmmaker Inka Achté's first feature-length documentary forces us to take a step back in considering the roots of misogyny
When the brutal gang rape of a girl on a bus in New Delhi in 2012 shook the world, it brought a new awareness of deeply entrenched violence against women in India. New programmes aimed at educating boys and urging them to resist the stereotypes and protect women started popping up around the country. Finnish filmmaker Inka Achté decided to follow one of these projects, Men Against Violence and Abuse (MAVA), and this became her first feature-length documentary, Boys Who Like Girls, which is world-premiering in Sheffield Doc/Fest's Doc/Think section.
Even before the opening credits, which contain the above-mentioned information, start, we meet some of the main protagonists of the story. Ved is an intelligent and talented teenage boy who is taking part in the project under the guidance of Asper, a young volunteer. MAVA is led by middle-aged professor Harish Sadani, and we first meet him as he discusses Ved's family situation with the boy's schoolteacher.
Ved's father is an alcoholic who abuses his wife daily, and his older brother does not contribute to the family budget at all. So Ved has to work to help sustain his family and is also tasked with taking care of all the household chores. This limits his activity at school and at MAVA to such a degree that both his teacher and Harish become very worried.
In parallel, we follow MAVA's activities, which reveal a deep problem in Indian society: women are considered bad if they dress provocatively, and young men believe it is their own fault if they are raped. Men cannot control themselves and should not be aroused like that, the reasoning goes. MAVA volunteers and experts are trying to do away with these dangerous prejudices through various workshops and protests that they stage on the streets of Mumbai.
But funding is scarce, and Harish goes to a conference on women's rights in Denmark in search of financing, simultaneously uncovering another, initially unexpected but enraging bias…
Boys Who Like Girls is a welcome and important film, but not only because it shows the issues of India’s patriarchy. It may seem more open and dominant than in the West, but the logic behind it is literally the same, as the #MeToo phenomenon has shown, and it is largely useless to break the female stereotypes without also modifying the male ones from an early age.
Through a combination of the social aspect and Ved's personal journey (edited by Livia Serpa with just the right measure of both, in a steady rhythm), and with her observational approach, Achté forces us to take a step back in considering the roots of misogyny, and how frequently and easily we misinterpret them. Through this story, the film reflects the complexity of the issue in global terms. Rather than concluding how terribly backwards Indian society is, the audience is inevitably led to question their own prejudices and values, and those of their societies.
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