Nikhil Kamkolkar, the director of Indian Cowboy, began his career as a First Assistant Cameraperson on the wildly successful South Asian Independent film American Desi starring Kal Penn His debut feature film as a writer/director, Indian Cowboy, is a romantic comedy starring Sheetal Sheth and a bevy of South Asian actors, which was released in North America on February 23, 2007. Indian Cowboy is a fun, irreverant romp through the conventions of hollywood and bollywood romantic comedies, and a tongue-in-cheek exploration of true-love, lending itself a style most unique. Here follows an interview with the filmmaker.
You have a degree in computer science. What motivated you to begin a career in the film industry?
I must say I stumbled into “film as a career” as an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. I had to take a number of electives to graduate and having always had an interest in storytelling/comic books/film, I picked a number of Performance, classic Literature and Film courses. One of the films I was introduced to then was Steven Soderberg’s “Sex, Lies and Videotape” and that was the film that opened my eyes to the
concept of Independent film. Coming from a non-filmi background, it was this film that made me aware of the possibilities of life as a filmmaker.
Tell us about a few films that have inspired you.
I don’t have a fixed set - but if I really had to pick, I’d say the films that formed my awareness of film as a craft and an artform. Bergman, Fellini, Kurosawa and Sergio Leone’s films easily come to the mind, and in contemporary terms, I have a strong interest in films that combine genre and philosophy such as the Matrix and Hero.
What subjects do you like to work on? Do you have a dream project?
Like I said before, I have a great interest in films that combine genre and philosophy, and films with an underdog seem to get my vote and my interest. I don’t know exactly what it is yet, but my dream project would resonate strongly with Indian Mythology.
As a South Asian filmmaker in USA, what are the challenges you have to face, if any? What are the advantages of being a South Asian filmmaker in USA?
Honestly, its not the fact that I am a South Asian filmmaker, but the fact that I actually grew up in India that makes a bigger difference. Its more about “sensibilities” - I can take in the melodrama of Bollywood, the subtlety of Claude Chabrol’s “Un Coeur en Hiver” or the ultra-cool attitude of a hip Hollywood action blockbuster such as “Die Hard”. So my
challenge is really internal, its creative, its about balancing the fact that I need to maintain the right kind of tonality for my film and its target audience. The advantage is exactly the same as the disadvantage! I have a broad pallette I can take in, and work with. Its just a matter of maturing as a filmmaker and a storyteller to be able to channel this advantage into my work.
There are many interesting and alternative/ experimental films being made in Bollywood these days, which are doing pretty well. What are your thoughts on the changing scenario of Bollywood films? Do you think the mindset of the audience has changed as well?
I am excited as an audience member to see all the indie films coming out of India outside of the Bollywood machine. What wonderful opportunities for actors! And watching Saif Ali Khan’s performance in “Omkara” is such a validation of my belief that our good old Bollywood actors are a helluva lot more versatile than the opportunities they are afforded.
Do you think in recent years, Bollywood’s very visual style is affecting and infiltrating Hollywood as well?
There’s always give and take between artists. I’m not certain there’s enough to really expand that to the two industries. Not yet to my mind anyway.
You have been working in the studios of Hollywood. In your opinion, how differently does Hollywood function from Bollywood?
I believe Bollywood is moving closer to Hollywood in terms of the functioning of the film set. And also in terms of the fact that film-making is now a certified industry in India. But the business models are entirely different. Bollywood still caters to a South Asian Diaspora, where Hollywood easily appeals to a global audience. I’d like to believe
that Bollywood will soon bring in Filmmakers like myself to create product that transcends boundaries of sensibilities.
What will be your next projects?
Well, Indian Cowboy: A Love-Love Story, my first movie is now on Netflix after a small theatrical release. I’d like to ask all your readers to check it out!
Its imperative for us filmmakers to take our enhanced skill sets given the experience of making our first film to deliver our second. I currently also work at MTV as a Senior Project Manager which keeps me very close to youth and pop culture. I’m very involved with digital technology and my next project will most certainly be born out of all this. Stay tuned!
Here is the trailer of Indian Cowboy: