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Pop Stuff: The Cowboys and The Indians

Creative chameleons have been around for centuries. From Shakespeare to Satyajit Ray, fluidity has defined the ‘greats’ while being the exception to the rule.

Soleil Nathwani Jan 27, 2016

Jennifer Lawrence. Photo: Gage Skidmore (flickr)


For many, Clint Eastwood will forever be memorialized on horseback, whip in hand, guns smoking. Arguably, the man behind the garb is more Cowboy than the one we know from Spaghetti Westerns. Today, Eastwood strides on sets, a famed ”˜one take’ director, holding producing reigns, a few Oscars in his holster. He embodies the multi-hyphenate creative: actor-producer-director-composer-fill-in-the-blank. Watching Eastwood’s directorial masterstroke, Mystic River, and realizing that the person calling the shots behind the camera was also the Cowboy of my childhood was a lesson that restated the answer to one of life’s pressing questions: What do you want to be when you grow up? Who says I have to be one thing?

Creative chameleons have been around for centuries. From Shakespeare to Satyajit Ray, fluidity has defined the ”˜greats’ while being the exception to the rule. So, when Eastwood turned director, the peanut gallery scoffed. And while Karan Johar, Bollywood’s multi-hyphenate extraordinaire, has worn more hats in his career than costume changes in Bombay Velvet, common wisdom dictates that his success is of the Look But Don’t Try variety. However, in the badlands of internet celebrity new creators have re-written the rules. As vloggers turn their iphones on themselves, the I-Do-It-All generation racking up millions of views, big screen talent has got a kick in the pants. This is a new Wild West.

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If you’re not a Cowboy in Hollywood today, your status is diminished. The new breed of A-listers aspire to have a writer’s skill, directing chops and producing hustle. Ben Affleck co-wrote Good Will Hunting, directed himself in and produced Argo and, two Oscars down, is ironically playing a character with a dual identity – Batman. Likewise, Leonardo DiCaprio is a prolific producer, George Clooney an Oscar-winning writer-director and Jennifer Lawrence has announced her directorial debut.

Bollywood is embracing the message that perhaps Karan Johar is not the exception but the example. Every male megastar has a mini studio, Aamir Khan leading the charge. And while female actors have yet to be accorded the same recognition in the producers seat, women are building their multi-hyphenate credentials; Farah Khan, choreographer-turned-filmmaker and Priyanka Chopra jumping into singing and television, are standout examples. Writer-directors Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane are equal part producers. That said, in India, the multi-hyphenate creative is frequently borne of necessity over choice. The festival circuit is evidence that our art house cinema is replete with unwitting multi-hyphenates. A rising crop of film makers, Chaitanya Tamhane with India’s Oscar submission Court, Neeraj Ghaywan with Cannes award winner Masaan and Devashish Makhija feted at MAMI for his short film El’ayichi, perform multiple roles on their films.

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My hope is that the talent making great work today seizes the chance to do it all. The cloud of social norms that discourage the creatively bound has a silver lining in the increasingly compelling argument that creative careers are becoming expansive and provide the chance to be a master or mistress of the outcome. If The Cowboys and The Indians can be one and the same, the boundaries of success will know no limits.


Soleil Nathwani is a New York-based Culture Writer and Film Critic. A former Film Executive and Hedge Fund COO, Soleil hails from London and Mumbai. 


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