by Ambarish Manepalli
I was born in India, but raised in the United States, spending my childhood and teenage years in St. Louis. Despite leaving India when I was very young, I have always felt a great connection to the traditions of my birth country. Growing up, the culture in my parents’ house, was undeniably Indian, which meant strong family values, the food (of course!), and the two languages of my family, Telegu and Kannada. Home was where I learned what being Indian meant.
In contrast, St. Louis was (or at least felt like at the time) a place of relatively few Indian faces. At school, on stage where I was discovering my passion for theater, I was often the only Indian student to participate in these productions. While it was lonely it was, oddly enough, rarely isolating. Maybe this was because the Indian community was just starting to grow and develop and this prevented me from separating myself entirely from my classmates and peers. Looking back, I realize how complex it was to be of a totally different and, in many ways, more conservative culture in opposition to the America teenage ideals of individuality, sports, and dating.
But now as my circle of friends and I have grown older, we find that the “Gateway to the West” remains the place of entry to an idea of America that isn’t often shown in films. It is a city that, in its Midwestern values of decency, community, and hard work, inspires a loyalty that I’ve learned to appreciate. I understand that this is not a unique phenomenon but it is high time that it appears on screen.
In St. Louis, as in much of the rest of the United States, the Indian diaspora is maturing.
Indian Americans, I hope, will soon be just as “American” as Irish and African-Americans. Cowboys Versus Indians is about a group of lifelong friends, who are all just that: American. The film does not deal with being Indian in America directly; it deals with being part of a greater community that reflects the true nature of the American melting pot.
But wait, it’s also a comedy, so we have to laugh!
I feel that that the best way for me to explore this phenomenon is through humor. Something that can reach out to people and make them laugh, but also make them think. How fine the line is between drama and comedy…
The thrust of the story was inspired by the football games that I used to play with my friends when we were teenagers that later evolved into a tradition as we would return to St. Louis from college or work for the Thanksgiving or Winter holidays. Often we would jokingly divide ourselves into the Indians against the Americans, and thus “Cowboys versus Indians” was born. Despite the lighthearted name, we took the game seriously and competed hard against one another with the expected post-game injuries to show for it. But mostly, it became our bond.
The game inspired Chris, who grew up in Utah playing similar football games, and I to distill stories from our shared Midwestern backgrounds and delve into the relationships between Raj, Sylvie, Ash, and Oliver, these four friends, two Indians and two Americans, whose lives have intertwined for over 20 years. In taking on ideas of place and identity, Cowboys and Indians is a story about having to come home in order to grow up.