For years they have been a familiar sight: the bronzed young men who patrol Bali's main beach, offering friendship – and often more – to female foreign tourists. But now the "Kuta cowboys", as they are known, face an uncertain future, thanks to an uproar provoked by a warts-and-all documentary.
Cowboys in Paradise has infuriated tourism officials on the Indonesian holiday island. Twenty-eight suspected gigolos, described by police as "young, fit-looking and tanned", were rounded up and questioned following a raid on Kuta Beach last week. While all were released, police have now turned their attention to the Singapore-based film director, Amit Virmani, who they claim shot the film without the necessary permits. They said on Friday that he could also be charged with fraud, for allegedly tricking his interview subjects into talking.
Several of the young men have said they did not realise Virmani was making a documentary for public release, or were unaware of the subject matter. However, the film-maker has insisted he made his intentions clear, and he expressed dismay at last week's arrests. "A witch-hunt is the last thing anybody wants," he said.
Virmani's documentary features frank interviews with Bali's beach boys, most of whom work primarily as drinks vendors, surf instructors and tour guides.
More than six million foreigners visit Bali every year, and the predominantly Hindu island derives 80 per cent of its income from tourism. Local officials believe the documentary has cheapened its image.
The Kuta raids were an effort "to clean up the beach of prostitution", according to a spokesman for Bali police, Gede Sugianyar. As for Virmani, police have asked Interpol to track him down in Singapore.
In the wake of the furore, several of the men interviewed in the film have denied being paid for sex.
In the film, one female tourist tells Virmani: "I just think they [the boys] love women, and there's nothing wrong about that ... When you're here and when you have a boyfriend, it's for real."
The documentary's website has been dismantled, and replaced with a statement from the film-makers saying: "We are aghast at the recent raids in Kuta. This is not the point of the film."Reuse content