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From: Witness

Tomorrow We Disappear: New Delhi’s Kathputli Slum

In a Delhi slum, puppeteers, musicians, jugglers and acrobats try to unite as they wrangle with an approaching eviction.

Editor’s note: this film is no longer available for online viewing.

New Delhi’s Kathputli slum is a place of fading traditions. For over half a century, 2,800 artist families have called its narrow alleyways home.

There are jugglers and acrobats, puppeteers and painters, folk singers and magicians, many who are well-respected artists in India and abroad.

In 2009, the New Delhi government sold Kathputli to developers for a fraction of its worth. The land is to be bulldozed to make room for the city’s first-ever skyscraper, which was intially going to be called Raheja Phoenix.

We follow three of Kathputli’s most talented performers as they wrangle with the reality of their approaching eviction.

Kathputli Colony in Delhi [Joshua Cogan/Al Jazeera]
Kathputli Colony in Delhi [Joshua Cogan/Al Jazeera]


By Jimmy Goldblum and Adam Weber

When we first met Puran Bhatt, he took us on a tour of his home. “These aren’t just walls,” he said. “My father and grandfather settled this place. My grandchildren were born here. They entered the world, right here, like little angels.”

In capturing Kathputli Colony’s final days, our hope is that our audience gets to see the colony like Puran, and the many artists like him: as a world with no distinction between life and art, where India’s past, present and future blur together, a home that somehow – impossibly, incomprehensibly – still brims with possibility.

When Kathputli’s artists move into transit camps later in 2014, many will surrender their arts, modernise and try to send their kids to school, or put them in the workforce.

The process is underway and although we want to do everything in our power to ensure it happens fairly, justly and transparently, it is not our goal to stop it.

The relocation is not a Manichaean issue and it’s near impossible to argue that the street arts are a viable livelihood for the majority of Kathputli’s 2,800 families.

The Delhi slum of Kathputli Colony has long been home to street performers and artists [Joshua Cogan]
The Delhi slum of Kathputli Colony has long been home to street performers and artists [Joshua Cogan]

Kathputli is dying and we see “Tomorrow We Disappear” as its funeral; not a Western-style funeral that laments the tragedy of loss but an Indian funeral which honors the uniqueness and vibrancy of its life.

In the end, we ask, what happens as these artists step into the unknown? What do they dream? What do they fear? What will they take with them and what will they leave behind?

And yet, for the many artists who will continue their traditions into the transit camps and beyond, we want this film to create new audiences and economic opportunities for them.

Later this year the film will travel to festivals around the world and, when it does, we hope that some of the artists in “Tomorrow We Disappear” will travel with us.

We have transplanted their art form to a different medium, one that can last and be preserved, and if that creates a new stage for the artists to thrive – even temporarily – we will feel like we have done our jobs.