At first glance, the Kathputli Colony looks like any other Indian slum. Flies swarm its putrid canals. Children climb on drooping electrical wires. Construction cranes and an ever-expanding Metro line loom on the horizon.
But Kathputli is a place of fading traditions. For 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 of whom 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, The Raheja Phoenix.
We follow three of Kathputli’s most-talented performers as they wrangle with the reality of their approaching eviction.
Puran Bhatt learned puppetry from his late father, Manoram, the first president of the Kathputli Colony. Puran grew up to become one of India’s most talented puppeteers. He’s traveled to over 25 countries to perform his puppet acts, and in 2003 the president of India awarded him the prestigious National Award for traditional arts. But as plans for the colony’s redevelopment are unveiled, Puran sets to work fighting the government’s scheme. He writes letters to the government, marches a giant protest parade with 15-foot puppets through the busy streets of Delhi, and argues with poorer members of the community who want to sign away the rights to the Kathputli land in the hopes of getting allotted flats.
Rahman Shah heads to the street every morning to perform a comedic and gruesome magic show. Policemen force bribes from him, and with his income dwindling, he wrestles with whether to pass his family’s traditions onto his two young sons who idolize him. When he sees the plan for Kathputli’s redevelopment, Rahman ignores the pleas of his friend Puran and contemplates a future beyond Delhi.
The acrobat Maya Pawar is a fearless performer who feels that Kathputli needs to change. She hates the colony’s grime, its mistreatment of women, and her endless run-ins with artists broken from years of unfulfilled promises. Maya looks toward the relocation with optimism because she believes it’ll force the artists to either modernize or move on.
Our story begins with the fate of thousands of marginalized performers in Delhi, India. The film chronicles a turning point in the lives of these performers, with the hopes of anticipating what’s to come in India’s future and preserving what’s being left behind.