Magic seems to be the new form of art in Mumbai

By  Anju Maskeri | Mumbai | Posted  16-Jul-2017

With the city offering a platform for alternate art forms, magic seems to be finally coming out of the circus

Ian Fernandes is the co-founder of Urban Shaman, a group that seeks out up and coming magicians. According to him, the need of the hour is to get people to see original acts of magic. Pic/Azhar Pirani
Ian Fernandes is the co-founder of Urban Shaman, a group that seeks out up and coming magicians. According to him, the need of the hour is to get people to see original acts of magic. Pic/Azhar Pirani

Each time 25-year-old Karan Singh introduces himself as a magician, the first thing he's asked: 'Can you make my wife disappear?' While that might be in a light vein, it's a question that is invariably thrown at most magicians, says Singh. "People have a hard time taking us seriously. It's difficult for them to imagine somebody making a career out of magic," he adds. But when we meet the Delhi-based Singh at Andheri's Brewbot on a Thursday night, it's for an event where he is certainly not an oddity. Along with him are several other young magicians from Mumbai, for whom magic is not an old fashioned occult or mumbo jumbo, but a legit art form, which deserves its place in the sun.

Magician Akshay Laxman performs a trick where he invites two members from the audience on stage. Both are asked to close their eyes. The magic lies in the fact as he pokes the girl on the left, the one on the right feels it
Magician Akshay Laxman performs a trick where he invites two members from the audience on stage. Both are asked to close their eyes. The magic lies in the fact as he pokes the girl on the left, the one on the right feels it

No rabbits, pigeons or cheap suits
We are seated on the floor above Brewbot, which is bunking in with the brewery, and has been christened as Bot Culture. Launched as a black box theatre for experimental art forms, the space has been put together by Sudeip Nair, owner of the erstwhile Hive and Anand Morwani of Brewbot. "The idea of having magic as a property has been on my mind for the last four years. While we had had an event for magicians at a Bandra restobar in 2014, it took us up till this time to have a dedicated space around it. We had to find more people who were doing it," says Nair, who plans to have this as a regular feature every week. Interestingly, thespian Raell Padamsee was the first to invite mentalist Lior Suchard to perform in the city back in May 2013. "I had watched him perform at a private event organised for the Israeli embassy, and was absolutely blow away by his acts. I felt it was something that people would like to see," she says.

With us are 20 others in the audience, including aspiring magicians, who have signed up for the first stand-up magic act that's being hosted in the city. Titled Up Close and Magical, it's a new series that invites a mix of amateur and professional magicians to experiment with new illusions. Interestingly, there's none of the paraphernalia that one would traditionally associate with magic. No black tailcoats or hats or life-size human boxes and certainly, no doves fluttering around them. The performers today, all in their early 20s, are dressed in regular casuals.

Shikhar Kamat
Shikhar Kamat

While there are definitely some eyeball-grabbing tricks that involve playing cards and coins, there's also a lot of mentalism and mind reading involved. "Honestly, the thought of a man in a cheap suit pulling a rabbit out of a hat is passé and cringe worthy. I want to promote new age magic," says Shikar Kamat, a 24-year-old filmmaker from Andheri. He calls us on stage and asks us to select a digit from 10 to 50. We pick 50. He then coaxes us to jab him with a large needle. We do as told, in fact, with more gusto than expected, leaving a wound. In the following seven seconds, Kamat has filled up a Sudoku-like box with digits where everything, whether counted straight, diagonal, upside-down, adds up to 50.

The idea, he says, is to introduce different forms of magic that people are not accustomed to. "I'm not a magician, but a psychological illusionist or mentalist. While magic is not real, the wonder it leaves us with is real. Unlike painters, who have a canvas, as a mind reader, the audience here is my canvas; I might use a mixture of suggestion and psychology but the person I'm using it on may not be influenced," he says. Kamat is entirely self-taught.

Feeding off David Blaine shows and Sherlock Holmes, Kamat learnt magic the hard way, like most others in the room. "I started off as a street magician. I would randomly pick people on the streets and play tricks on them. That sense of wonder that you leave a person with is what would give me a kick," he says.

Mumbai-based Illusionist Amey Sarang has been trying to bring respectability to the profession for years now. Sarang, whose magical feats have also been registered and documented in the Limca Book of Records, World Records India, is preparing a series of 12 films on varied themes
Mumbai-based Illusionist Amey Sarang has been trying to bring respectability to the profession for years now. Sarang, whose magical feats have also been registered and documented in the Limca Book of Records, World Records India, is preparing a series of 12 films on varied themes

Like everything else, for these magicians, there are good shows and bad. Saigopal Medepalli, who has been practising full time magic for the last 11 years, has played a trick using a Rubik's cube. "Did you realise I goofed up three times while performing?" he tells us with disarming candour. There have been times when the tricks have failed and audience has heckled, but that's all part of the deal, he says. "After years of practice, you learn to cover up," he says. Hailing from a South Indian family, Medepalli, says it took nerves of steel to stick to his decision to take up a career in magic. "Of course, it's still difficult to get shows. But unlike comedy, which I believe is saturated, with a comic in every street, magic is still unexplored. Two years ago, the 24-year-old shot to fame after a video of him playing a trick on Tanmay Bhat went viral.

Singh, too, owes it social media for the publicity that the profession has garnered of late. "A friend created a Facebook page called Karan Singh Magic. It started with 200 followers and today has around 2 lakh," says Singh, whose brand of magic usually involves figuring people's ATM pins, guessing your first crush (like he did with us) and evoking life memories. " A couple of years ago, I did a ticketed show in Delhi and advertised it as a PG 13 show so that none of the kids come and the perception that magic being for 2 year olds changes. I ensured that I made no disappearing acts and the entire show depended on people making choices," he says.

Mohit Rao, who has performed mentalism even in a local train, feels there’s a gradual openness from the paying public to experience magic as a form of entertainment
Mohit Rao, who has performed mentalism even in a local train, feels there’s a gradual openness from the paying public to experience magic as a form of entertainment

Getting magic out of the circus
In the audience is Ian Fernandes, founder of Urban Shaman, a city-based group that seeks out up and coming magicians. According to him, the need of the hour is to get people to see diverse acts of magic. "As you might have seen, the tricks were sort of similar on many levels. We want to divert people and get them to come up with original content," he says. Fernandes is currently on the hunt to find geek magicians, who basically eat anything (live snakes, rats, glass).

Like Fernandes, Mumbai-based illusionist Amey Sarang, grandson of magician Chandu the Great and son of wizard Vinaykumar, has been trying to bring respectability to the profession for years now. Sarang, whose magical feats have also been registered and documented in the Limca Book of Records, World Records India, is preparing a series of 12 films on varied themes. Each film will have an element of magic in it. "My aim is to revive the threatened and dying art of live magic in India on a grand scale. I'll be casting real magicians in the films, because I feel it's time magicians get seen as respectable entertainers," he says.

The fact that there is no formal institute that teaches magic in the country has made many depend on YouTube videos and books and other magicians to sharpen their skills. "In such a cases, what happens is that there's no quality control in this space — a boring show by one magician or mentalist leave a sour taste with the audience, for the genre at large," says another city-based mentalist Mohit Rao.

However, the intention right now for the makers of the show is to be consistent with the series.

"We've seen that it's only when there's a level of consistency do you get a footfall," says Morwani of Brewbot.

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