Feature's focus draws attention from Indonesian authorities

Indonesia-raised, U.S. educated, Indian national and Singapore resident Amit Virmani’s debut feature documentary, “Cowboys in Paradise,” has ignited controversy in Southeast Asia.

The film documents the “Kuta Cowboys” — beach boys on Bali’s Kuta beach who make a living providing companionship to Western women on holiday — and its trailer drew more than 1 million hits on YouTube, but that exposure has led to Virmani receiving hate mail and death threats from Indonesians.

Virmani, operating as a one-man crew, made numerous trips to Bali over two years, and used his knowledge of the local language, Bahasa, to interview several of the Cowboys and in some cases their Western girlfriends.

Indonesian media picked up on the trailer and suddenlyVirmani was accused of being anti-Indonesian by portraying Bali as a sex tourism destination. The Bali administration, under intense local media pressure, raided the beach last week and arrested 29 suspected Cowboys. Virmani, who had kept a low profile until then, finally broke his silence, appealing that no one who appears in the film be harmed.

Virmani’s distress stems from the fact that nowhere in the completed film are the Cowboys accused of being male prostitutes.

“The film is a result of my encounter with a 12-year-old boy who couldn’t wait to grow up and be a Cowboy,” says Virmani. “What does it say about paradise when that’s the career a kid is most eager to pursue?”

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