“We are the flying birds…here today and gone tomorrow.” The puppeteers, performers, and magicians of the Kathputli colony in Delhi are the last of their kind. When their land is sold to developers to be bulldozed and transformed into luxury high-rises, these once-itinerant artists are forced to fight for the only home they know. Fending off relocation, they keep alive the mystical Indian folk arts, one day at a time. In this stunning feature debut, Jim Goldblum and Adam Weber capture the fleeting joys of a way of life that is quickly becoming lost. What beauty is destroyed as we are forced into someone else’s vision of the future? ‘Tomorrow We Disappear‘ is not simply an act of documentation, but ultimately an extraordinary act of preservation.
‘Tomorrow We Disappear‘ screens as part of the World Documentary Competition at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival on Tuesday, April 22 & Friday, April 25, 2014 in New York City. We sat down with the films Directors Jimmy Goldblum and Adam Weber, as well as its subject (who spoke through a translator) Puran Bhatt and spoke about the film’s development, the current state of India’s caste system, and much more.
Find More Information & Tickets to ‘Tomorrow We Disappear’ at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival – HERE
What does the title of the movie mean to you?
Jimmy Goldblum: There’s a sense that people of the Kathputli colony are always on the brink of going away. And “tomorrow” is a very interesting word, because it could obviously mean twenty-four hours from now, or it could mean a week, it could mean a year, it could mean ten years. But there’s always that sense of inevitability, that history is not moving in their direction. And we wanted something that would capture that. We went there looking for magicians. And the act of disappearances was very present in our mind when we showed up.
Adam Weber: What Jimmy says about inevitability is a lot of what the movie was constructed around. And sometimes it helps to think of it as an “asteroid” film, or an end-of-world film, because this is a multi-billion dollar land deal, and this is the first-ever luxury skyscraper and shopping complex [in Delhi], and so there’s very little that a group of artists can do to fight against this. But they’re doing everything they can, and Puran’s out here trying to make people aware of it, and hopefully the film will help do that. But at the end of the day, it’s coming, and you just have to prepare yourself for change, whether you like it or not. That’s the struggle that the film deals with, and the title is a way of evoking that.
The developer in charge of building the new complex frequently speaks of progress. Is the “progress” he’s talking about really progress for everyone?
Adam: India, obviously, has an enormous population. It’s going to be the biggest in the world. And Delhi is just totally horizontal, and at some point they need to go vertical. It just so happens that there’s no space, and this space they picked just happened to be maybe the worst spot to pick. This is a colony of artists devoted to the traditional ways. And yeah, there’s no way around it, they’re catering to the new and the modern India. And the movie’s about what you lose when you focus too heavily on that.
Jimmy: We’re talking priorities. If you’re an artist, you have very different priorities than if you’re a developer. So you can’t build something new without losing something. This is just the reality of physics. You have to destroy something to create something. And so the question is, what are you losing in the development of the new?
How alive and well is the caste system in India right now? And what does the film have to say about that?
Puran Bhatt: Everyone has their own caste, their own religion, which dictates certain things. But in the colony, whether people are Hindus, Muslims, Christians, whoever, they all participate in each other’s lives, whether it’s a wedding, whether it’s some religious festival. There’s a real sense of unity there. This way of living doesn’t really exist outside of the colony in daily life. That’s what makes the colony unique: There’s none of the communal tension that you’d experience outside of it. When it comes to artists, whether they’re a jugglers or dancers or puppeteers, that’s the beginning and the end for them. Religion isn’t something that’s going to blind them to friendship and family. Their art is all that matters to them. Because of that, they’re able to live as one big family. Brothers and sisters.
Adam: It’s very pluralistic inside the colony. But viewed from outside, certainly from the developer’s perspective, they’re essentially untouchables.
Adam and Jimmy, what drew you to this particular story in the first place?
Adam: We read Salman Rushdie’s “Midnight’s Children.” That’s my favorite book of all time, I would say. And I recommended the book to Jimmy, and when he read it, he got to the moment at the end of the book where Saleem [Sinai, the protagonist] hides out in a magician’s ghetto. And Jimmy just googled “magician’s ghetto plus India,” and found a little blurb in the Times of India that mentioned the Kathputli colony, and that it’s endangered. We couldn’t find much out about the colony through remote research, so within months we were there, just trying to figure the place out, and meeting awesome people.
Jimmy: When you realize that there’s a slum hidden away in a city, where magicians, acrobats, puppeteers, and jugglers live, and you’re a bit of a romantic, I mean, there’s just such a sense of possibility in that notion. And there was no photo evidence we could find at the beginning, so it almost just became like a legend, and we had to go off and see if it was true.
Puran, what made you and other members of your community want to participate?
Puran: Tourists are always coming and going to the colony, taking photos, shooting video. It’s a normal everyday part of life. Whereas when we met Jimmy and Adam, you could tell pretty quickly that these guys seriously wanted to do something big. They came at the time when things with the developer and the government were coming to a boiling point and really picking up a lot of speed. So it seemed to me that if we worked with Adam and Jimmy, it could have a very positive effect for us.
What has your community been up to since the events of the film ended? What do you see for yourselves in the future?
Puran: Things between the DDA [Delhi Development Authority] government and the developer have just been going back and forth, back and forth. Most recently, in the last few months, things started to really pick up, with the developer company taking real physical steps to move everyone out. So it got to a point where we knew we really needed to take action, get everyone together, and make something happen. And at that time, through the Internet, through Jim and Adam, and friends all over the world, some ten thousand people got together online and put together online communities, photos, petitions. And now, looking at the future, it’s starting to seem like all these people coming together is actually having a pretty big effect. The court hasn’t been able to make one firm decision, because they’re looking at all of this that’s going on in the media, and they’re thinking, we can’t totally ignore this. This film is just another way for more people to come together with us. And through that, maybe we can make what we’re trying for into reality.
What kind of footprint do the Kathputli artists have beyond the colony itself?
Jimmy: There used to be bear handlers in the colonies, up until the ‘90s. They would take their bears out into the streets of Delhi, and they would do dances and songs. But then it became an issue with animal rights’ activists. The activists said they were mistreating these animals, and they needed to be taken away. So what happened was, they replaced the bears with their kids. They’d have their children coming out in the street and doing the dances and the songs. And then after that happened, people were like, this is not interesting to me anymore. They sort of just assumed that these people had disappeared. It was out of sight out of mind, even though they still lived in the colony.
One the most notable scenes in the movie is when the police shut down the magic show of Rahman, an artist from the colony, when he won’t pay a hefty bribe. Why do the Delhi authorities treat street artists like that?
Adam: There’s something called the Bombay Beggary Act, which was instated in the 50’s. It’s a law that forbids street arts, because it equates street performers to beggars and pickpockets and lepers. So Rahman in particular has a hard time, because you see him on the street, and he’s a magician, and that’s his craft, and that’s what his father was, and his father’s father, and his uncle. But on the street there, he looks like a beggar if you’re not watching the show. And he’s disrupting traffic, and maybe there’s someone who picked somebody’s pocket watching the show, and he gets blamed.
Jimmy: It’s a really complicated question. After the [Mumbai terrorist attacks at the Taj Mahal Hotel in 2008], there’s been sort of a mandate amongst the police to prevent large congregations of crowds unless the local police precinct is allowing it. So there’s this terrorist threat they’re always trying to avoid. But what happens too is that the police are underpaid. They have to patrol these large areas in the system, and they see the street artists as a very easy way to make money, and they’ll just extort them. There are a lot of people in this chain. Those cops weren’t bad guys. They were poor. And it’s sad, because when you’re put into a system like that where you don’t have many choices, you’re in conflict with your fellow human beings. And so you have the police reacting against the expense of Rahman even though they might not dislike him.
What kinds of positive effects do you hope the film will have?
Jimmy: The idea of slums being destroyed, people being evicted, it happens all the time. It’s a very common phenomenon, in India specifically, and it happens with very little transparency. There’s a moment in the film when the president of the colony gives a letter to the developers and says, these are the demands we gave to the government, and we’re giving them to you as well. And the developers are like, “Oh, you gave it to the government? It’ll just sit in a file and no one will ever look at it.” And that’s how it works. And so we took that letter and put it up on the Internet, and it very clearly stipulates what the people want before they’ll ever consider leaving the Kathputli colony. And if we can bring a level of transparency to this process, when the government and the developers are very unaccustomed to having any transparency, we would be doing a real service to these people.
Adam: Just getting people to ask questions is the main goal. And we directed people to our website, so that can constantly evolve and be updated.
Puran: The film can have an effect. The first thing that’s essential is that it’s reaching people and making them aware of what’s going on. The main problem that’s happening here is they’re putting together homes for twenty-eight hundred families when there’s around three thousand three hundred. So these people are going to be left without homes. And maybe now people can start to look at the situation from the perspective of these artists, and think about what they actually need. And there must remain a full artists’ village, a place where tourists know to go. That’s what will keep us alive.
What’s on the horizon in terms of distribution?
Adam: We’re hoping to have all those conversations now. The great thing about Tribeca is they get a lot of distributors to come see the films. So people have reached out, and they’re all now getting a chance to see it. And we’re looking at domestic distribution as a totally different thing than international.
Jimmy: Yeah. We’re doing the festival circuit in North America and Europe, but in India we’re actually collaborating with our executive producer Guneet Monga of Anurag Kashyap Films–she’s basically the top independent producer in India–and we’re working with her to find a pathway to bring it to India, because we could think it’s a really amazing story that would have a lot of cultural resonance for them.
Do you think on some level it would be more important to bring it to India than anywhere else?
Adam: Of course that’s always been a goal of ours and still is. Documentary is kind of a mixed bag there. People aren’t necessarily familiar with the format in a theater setting. That being said, a lot of people have smart phones. So we’re thinking about ways of bringing it to people that way. Or we’re thinking about traveling around and projecting it ourselves. We’re talking to people who can do all those things.
Jimmy: The themes of the film are universal themes. If you live in a large city, you recognize what’s happening: Culture being displaced in the name of modernity and urbanization. But obviously there’s a specificity to the story, to the art forms. There’s a deep tradition that we’re dealing with here that we’re trying to honor and preserve. And I think it’s going to be a whole different thing in India. It’s going to be very emotional. And so we’re really excited to get the film out in front of as many eyeballs as possible there.
And if you raise awareness there specifically, your film might have a more direct and immediate impact.
About The Filmmakers
Jimmy Goldblum won the Emmy for New Approaches to Documentary for Live Hope Love, an interactive documentary he produced for the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting in 2008. He also wrote, filmed, and produced The Institute for Human Continuity (2012), which is widely considered one of the most successful transmedia campaigns of all time. Adam Weber is an editor, director, and writer who has worked for major film and TV studios in both New York and Los Angeles. Weber edited Michel Gondry’s Is The Man Who Is Tall Happy?, an animated documentary about Noam Chomsky, which Indiewire named one of the top three documentaries of 2013. Weber was an assistant editor on Gondry’s The Green Hornet and previously worked as the apprentice editor on Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Inglourious Basterds.’