Boys Who Like Girls follows three men of different ages, all based in India, who are involved in a men’s movement to defend women’s rights and fight toxic masculinity. Harish is the founder of Men Against Violence and Abuse (MAVA), Ved is a teenager struggling to express himself and Aspar is a teacher on the programme.
The film had its World Premiere at Sheffield Doc/Fest earlier this month and Screen Editor Gethin Morgan had a chat with director Inka Achté.
Inka was following the reporting around a brutal gang rape in New Delhi back in 2012 when she discovered a small article about MAVA. “I became really curious about it. I felt incredibly grateful and happy, as a woman, that there are men who cared about this. I was almost moved to tears because it felt so important.”
After contacting Harish she felt compelled to share this story. “I’d been to see a lot of films about women’s human rights and women’s issues and it felt like there’s always only women in the audience. Also, maybe there isn’t really a very nice role for men in those films. For me it was really important to make a film that would maybe make men feel welcomed into the gender discussion and include them. But also, I guess, for female viewers to feel the same sort of relief or hope as I did about the feature; that you know there are people who care about this issue.”
Inka expressed how vital she thinks it is that men realise it is also their role to push for gender equality. “it’s not just about treating women nicely it’s about treating other men in a compassionate way, because what we now call toxic masculinity also harms men themselves.”
Despite centering on a very specific community, in a country with very strong traditions and cultures, the film feels remarkably universal. That was a deliberate tactic Inka employed in the edit suite to make it relatable for a Western audience. “I’ve deliberately left out discussions that go into stuff which are complex and present in Indian society and I really tried to focus on issues that I can recognise, or that can happen in Finland (her birthplace) or the UK.”
Why did she feel the need to go all the way to India to tell this universal story? Quite simply, she couldn’t find any programmes like MAVA in Europe at the time.
She centers the film on three fascinating characters. But of all the children on the programme, she chose Ved. Why? “He was a conflicted character. He was clearly going through something strange or troubling when we started filming. It was obvious that something was bothering him.”
Ved finds himself between a father figure who is “traditional or aggressive or whatever you want to call it, and this more progressive role model [Harish]. So I found that interesting that he’s in that kind of crossroads and being pushed from one side.”
Harish is a sweet, gentle soul who Inka thinks “never felt like he fits the bill of the traditional Indian man”, which is what drove him to dedicate his life to this cause. “But for me that’s what makes Harish an interesting character, because it’s like this David and Goliath battle that is almost like an impossible task he’s taken *pause* but not quite impossible.”
In terms of India, she knows there is still work to be done. “I always knew that the changes we would witness would be small because what they’re striving for is a massive societal change and they’re up against centuries and centuries of tradition, ways of doing things, religion and all that.”
MAVA itself is still struggling. “I really hope this film can in some way change that. And not just in the form of individual, small donations but some sort of sustainable change so that he doesn’t have to exist in this hand-to-mouth way all of the time.”
However, Inka is optimistic about the changing tides of equality. “I actually really feel quite hopeful since making the film. And now the #MeToo thing happened and I feel like a lot of men have support for women. I really feel something has shifted and it’s really inspiring.”
And what next for her? While still sharing Boys Who Like Girls with the world, she has already begun her next project. It’s an incredible story of “reverse immigration”. A Somalian-Finnish man who has lived in Finland for 25 years, raising four children there, has discovered his family’s land in Somalia is “absolutely heaving” with gold. He plans to open a goldmine and is moving his family out there with him. Inka has already filmed there for ten days and says the children are “hating it”. Funding provided, she plans to continue shooting towards the end of the year.
Image credit: Sheffield Doc/Fest.