‘Cowboys’ for Rent in Bali

Posted On: November 17, 2010

This article first appeared on the Good Vibrations Magazine.

A girlfriend of mine has fond memories of her dates with the men in Bali. They are sweet, romantic and good-natured. She desperately hopes to return one day. I was intrigued. What is the allure of the men of Bali?

Apparently, thousands of women travel to Bali in search of paradise each year. And many find it in the arms of ‘Kuta Cowboys’, the bronzed beach ambassadors whoʼve made the island one of the worldʼs leading destinations for female sex tourists. But mind you, the filmmaker – Singapore-based writer and director Amit Virmani who grew up in India, Indonesia, and Hong Kong – insists that these men are not gigolos or sex workers since they do not sell sex.

Virmani first got interested in the film subject after a strange conversation with a young boy in Bali. The boy was twelve years old and couldn’t wait to grow up and “sex-service” women; he wanted to practice his Japanese with Virmani.

A controversial feature film, ‘Cowboys in Paradise’ promises to get between the sheets of Baliʼs ʻholiday romanceʼ trade to reveal some of the islandʼs most closely-guarded secrets. According to its official website, this includes talking about: What separates a Cowboy from garden-variety gigolos? How do women compensate him? Why are time management skills crucial to his success? And how does his family feel about his colourful ways?

In April 2010, the filmʼs trailer went viral on YouTube, prompting Bali Police to condemn the film and temporarily arrest 28 beach boys. The men were subsequently released because it was impossible to prove that they were prostitutes. In the trailer, one wife of a Kuta Cowboy said: “When my husband’s guests come, he stays with them. For a night or two, I don’t sleep with him. I don’t mind that.”

The filmmaker appealed for the safety of those featured in the 83-minute film, insisting that criminalising the Cowboys was not the point of the film. Virmani has received his share of death threats and hate mail such as on this forum, and he questions why he has become Public Enemy Number 1 in Bali, when he was simply covering a subject that everyone knows about, and many have covered before him. He insists that this is not an anti-Indonesian film by an Indian filmmaker.

The film premiered at the DMZ Korean International Documentary Festival, and has been screened in the Asia Hot Shots Berlin Festival (October 22nd) and the Vancouver Singapore Film Festival (October 23rd). It will also play at the Brisbane International Festival (Nov 5th and 14th), as well as the Arts House in Singapore (Nov 10th – 17th).

Yours truly be attending and will be posting her thoughts very soon. So stay tuned!

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