Jimmy Goldblumand Adam Weber are New York-based filmmaker friends who traveled to India inspired by Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children and decided to make a documentary on the
lives of the residents of Delhi’s Kathputli
Their film — Tomorrow We Disappear —
narrates a fascinating and sad tale of artists
— puppeteers, magicians, acrobats, jugglers
and others in a slum.
A few years ago the Delhi government sold
the land to a developer, who plans to bulldoze the slum and build the city’s tallest residential building. Although alternative housing will be provided to the artists, Tomorrow
We Disappear explores their struggle to
maintain their livelihood and their art form.
A beautiful, moving documentary,
Tomorrow We Disappear had its world premiere at the 13th Tribeca Film Festival,
which runs April 16 through April 27.
A few months ago you had told me about
being inspired by the reference to the magicians’ colony in Salman Rushdie’s
Midnight’s Children. Which one of you had
read the book?
Jimmy: We both read
the book and Adam
recommended it to me
five to six years ago.
When I got to the chapter about Parvati the
Witch and Picture
Singh in the magicians’
ghetto, I thought how
the hell did he come up
I found a Times of
India article about how
the Kathputli Colony
(in Delhi) was going to
be bulldozed. Which is
when I wrote an e-mail
to Adam that we
should check this out
and the idea of the documentary formed from
Did you work on projects before?
Jimmy: No, we were college roommates.
We have known each other for a long time. I
grew up with Adam’s cousin. But we had our
separate careers and never worked together.
What college was that?
Jimmy: University of Pennsylvania.
And when you wrote to Adam did he imme-
diately say yes?
Adam: You know I think that was the easiest e-mail to respond to. Jimmy and I have
this weird relationship. We give each other
energy back and forth. So I immediately
wrote back asking when can we go?
It only took a couple of months from that
time for us to fly to India.
How many trips did you take to India to
make the film?
Adam: We made three trips over the
course of three years, spending a total of six
months there. We also sent a second unit
team to capture the recent protests against
How difficult was it for you to access the
characters who narrate the story? How did
you get them to trust you and speak before
Jimmy: When we first started investigat-
ing the project we were introduced through
e-mails and Facebook to photojournalists
who had been there and had met one or two
But we didn’t really know what to expect
until we got there. They had seen journalists
before so they were very welcoming. But
they didn’t understand why we kept coming
back every day for a long time. It took them
sometime to understand the scale at which
we were planning to tell the story and what
story we were actually telling.
And how was the experience of visiting a
slum in Delhi?
Jimmy: I had been to India before, mostly
in Rajasthan. But I was with my family for a
month. When you do the tourist route you
are extremely isolated from the real people.
But I had the compulsion to go back.
Adam: One of the things that I had liked
about Midnight’s Children and why I liked
going to the colony was that there is still this
connection India has with folk tales. There is
something magical and these people still
play that function that connection with the
Perhaps I am looking at it from the point of
view of an outsider, but their living condi-
tions are quite harsh. Their homes often get
Jimmy: What we did not report in the film
was that there is this modern Delhi and then
this slum. But it is a very diverse place. Some
people have a rather decent standard of living, while for others it is a lot tougher.
Adam: The structure of the film makes it
clear that it is definitely a slum, there’s no
hiding it. But there’s something more to it as
well. They have a sense of pride about their
homes and how they live.
Jimmy: But for many of them the materiality of life is not important. Their homes
may be falling apart, and water often seeps
inside. But then one of them will say, ‘My
father built it’ or ‘This is the place where we
learned our trade.’
Some of these people did sign the contract
to move to the temporary housing provided
by the developer and yet they do not want to
move. What legal ground do they have?
Jimmy: It is something we continue to talk
about. If nothing else, then the film should
convey that there is a group of artists who
are ill equipped at understanding this colossal land deal.
It’s hard to see what is actually happening.
They signed a paper to allow the transit
camps to be built. But I think they had
hoped that things would move a little bit
There are some people who have moved to
those temporary houses. There are 3,200
families and very few have left. Eventually
the plan is to build skyscrapers, a commercial complex and projects like homes for the
There is a lot of irony in the story. Many of
these people have won national awards and
traveled abroad. But then they are sent back
to their homes with really poor living standards.
Jimmy: It’s an existentialist crisis for them.
You go into the colony and people will show
you their photographs with Nancy Reagan
and Barbara Bush. They have traveled to
America as representatives of traditional
Then they go back to their slum that is
constantly under the threat of being demolished. The police constantly bother them,
stopping them from performing on the
streets and they are essentially street artists.
But their art and their performances have
Adam: Slowly they are being stripped of
their traditional form of art.
What’s interesting about this story is that
they are being offered free housing with
kitchens and living spaces. In other situations people will be ecstatic to get housing
But as Puran asks in the film: ‘Are we
artists or are we poor people?’ They will lose
the sense of their art if they move into the
new flats that look like boxes. n
Off the beaten
Off the beaten
At the Tribeca Film Festival, Aseem Chhabra
meets filmmakers and actors who dare to be
THE MAGAZINE M9
Tomorrow We Disappear is the story of street performers in a New Delhi slum.