Society has a troubling relationship with artists. We want to enjoy the work they do, we want them to be ambassadors for our culture, but we don’t want to pay them a living wage. All around the world some of the greatest artists live in squalor, or right above the poverty line. I’m not talking about some Hollywood actor making $20 million a movie. That’s closer to a commodity mass-produced for easy consumption. I’m talking about dancers, puppeteers, visual artists, storytellers, and all manner of creative individuals whose sole goal is to bring inspiration and joy into their audience’s life. In Jimmy Goldblum and Adam M. Weber’s documentary, TOMORROW WE DISAPPEAR, residents of an artist colony in India find themselves forced out of their decades old homes to allow for development.
For hundreds of years, roaming artists (magicians, acrobats, puppeteers) traveled the Indian countryside, creating the stories and the mythological backbone that some would argue united the country. Before radio, film, and television, these artists helped form a young nation’s identity. In the 1950s these artists ended their itinerant routes and moved into vacant land beside a jungle in West Delhi. Now a tinsel slum, Kathputli Colony provides home to some of the world’s greatest street artists. But in 2010, the government sold the Kathputli land to real estate developers and the residents find their homes will be bulldozed and cleared for high-rise luxury apartments.
TOMORROW WE DISAPPEAR is a fascinating documentary about how societies balance progress and legacy. While no one will deny the historical and cultural significance of the Kathputli artists, India is a country experiencing rapid growth and unchecked transformation. For the first time in its history, the nation is developing a vast middle class. The homes and services of most cities are far from the modern levels you would expect in other nations. On the one hand, Delhi is a city vastly in need of the sort of redevelopment that the government has planned for this neighborhood. On the other hand, there are 2800 families, singers, dancers, actors, traditional healers, snake charmers, and especially puppeteers who call this area home. A good portion of its creative life derives from these artists living and working so closely together in open plazas. Even with the goodwill of developers building free camps for the families to live in during redevelopment, the Kathputli way of life will disappear.
The artists of the colony have little to fight for, and even have difficulty deciding on a common thing to fight for. Some worry that to take the offer of free housing in the future, you are turning your back on history and your neighbors. Others assume the changes will occur anyway, and if they do not join on ‘team progress,’ they will be left without history or home. These are not easy issues and the film, created very much in the midst of everything happening, does not offer easy solutions. It is an enthralling glimpse into bureaucracy and obligation and heritage and should be viewed with your eyes glancing forever on the horizon. When all is said and done, no one is going to remember an apartment building, but they will never forget the art a society has made.
Tomorrow We Disappear is available now on iTunes and VOD.