Director: Inka Achte
Words – Rhiannon Topham
Mumbai teenager Ved is struggling with his exams. His father is an abusive drunk who threatens to send him off to work on a farm in rural India unless he improves his grades. But Ved loves to dance, and he finds solace in a vital but severely underfunded boys’ club run by Men Against Violence and Abuse (MAVA). The club aims to foster healthier masculinities among Mumbai’s young boys, challenge stereotypes about men and women, and contribute vital male support to the gender equality movement.
Boys Who Likes Girls was filmed in the aftermath of the horrific gang rape in Delhi. Social workers at MAVA ask the boys why the Delhi victim was abused the way she was, and their instinctive response is “because she’s a girl”.
The overarching theme of the documentary, a potent message that men need to be ‘saved’ from toxic masculinity too, is particularly poignant not just in India, but on a global scale in the wake of the #metoo movement.
Director Inka Achte is sensitive to the complex gender dichotomies which are enforced by different cultures and is careful not to belittle any cultural customs or traditions. She doesn’t attempt to vilify the young boys participating in MAVA’s workshops because of their consensus that women who aren’t draped head to toe are “greedy”, for example, or when Ved tells his mother to “complain later” and get on with preparing dinner when she starts talking to the film crew about the family’s drunken patriarch.
She instead reminds the viewer that these are teens who have been socialised to believe that gendered behaviour is normal and to be expected, and that they have ample opportunity to break free from these societal confines with the right guidance from groups such as MAVA.
It’s a documentary that should be shown in schools across the world to educate youngsters about the benefits of treating one another with compassion rather than ferocity. Ved begins the documentary an awkward teen desperately trying to avoid succumbing to the self-fulfilling prophecy bestowed on him by his hostile home life by forging a more salutary path for himself – a sentiment with international resonance.
Boys Who Like Girls is a masterclass in ethnographic film-making and a life lesson in solicitude.
You can see Boys Who Like Girls at Sheffield Doc/Fest, info and tickets available here: