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No more rabbits left in their hats: Magicians losing out to internet

Magicians across the city complain that they are running out of rabbits to pull out of their hats.

delhi Updated: Feb 24, 2018 23:32 IST
Manoj Sharma
Manoj Sharma
Hindustan Times
Tulsi , a magician, performs at the food court at Select Citywalk Mall in Saket.(Hindustan Times)

A little, low-lit room, suffused with a tired and decrepit air, is magician Krishan Gopal’s office-cum-private space where he likes to spend solitary moments, practising his craft. It has a cabinet filled with magic props: hankies, caps, colourful boxes, cards, bottles. On the floor is a speaker box, a couple of suitcases with another set of props that he carries to his shows.

A paper pasted on the wall behind him, says, ‘Consultation: Rs 500.’ Well, no, that is not his fee to teach you magic tricks. Since November last year, the magician has also been working as a mind wellness therapist, providing consultation for psychosomatic ailments, phobias, anxiety, and depression.

“Magic is my first love, but these days it is not easy to find work. Earlier I would do about 20 shows a month, now I hardly do five. So, I did a course in mind-wellness therapy,” says Gopal, one of Delhi’s better-known magicians.

The internet, he says, is to be blamed for his woes. “It is killing the magic. These days, when people call me for a show, they ask about the tricks I would perform, and then they would return to me after searching for the tricks on Google and ask if I could offer something different,” says Gopal, who has been a magician for two decades.

Not just Gopal, magicians across the city complain that they are running out of rabbits to pull out of their hats. They say magic is losing its mystery and magicians’ tricks no longer create the shock and awe like they did a few years back, all thanks to the internet. Not just on YouTube, there are many websites that promise to turn anyone into a magician in no time. The fallout: the traditional magicians are struggling to make ends meet.

“During my stage shows, when I perform illusion tricks such as slicing a girl into three parts, many in the audience would say the girl has turned away. This is because they have already seen the trick on the internet. There is a drastic fall in interest in magic in the past few years,” says Hare Krishna, another famous Delhi magician.

Krishan Gopal , a magician, performs a trick at his house in Inder Lok in New Delhi . (Hindustan Times)

“Till about a decade ago, I would do four illusion magic shows a day, now I don’t do four even in a month. The problem is, these days even balloon decorators at birthday parties learn a few tricks online and call themselves magicians,” says Krishna, a magician since 1974. Like Krishan Gopal, he too is looking for an alternative career option. “I have decided to quit this profession. Maybe, I shall start some business,” he says.

Magic in India has gone through several evolutionary steps. Its earlier practitioners performed on the streets. In the 1940s, with the arrival of legends such as Gogia Pasha, PC Sorcar, K Lal the magic shows became grand extravaganzas full of comedy, dance, light, sound, and smoke. Dressed in the costume of maharajas, they made humans disappear, sliced them into two, produced cascades of coins from beards and sleeves as people watched----amazed and stupefied. The late 1990s and early 2000s saw the arrival of magic shows on Indian TV.

Then came the YouTube magician a few years ago and turned the magic scene upside down. “They are basically hobby magicians who learn a few tricks from professionals and then reveal them on YouTube and Facebook in their quest to add subscribers and earn money from advertising, in the process damaging the profession that has thrived on the secrecy of tricks,” says Prem Narain, a magician for 12 years who also works as a private teacher to support his family. “These days, it has become next to impossible to survive as a magician.”

The arrival of smartphones ensured anyone can check their tricks anytime, magicians say. “ During my shows, I have seen people looking things up on their phones. At times, they tell me they saw it on YouTube. People should understand that magic isn’t fantasy, it is a practised art,” says a magician, not wishing to be named. “Only those who use magic for product launches are surviving. But that is business, not magic.”

Magicians say that unlike in the past, very few children want to learn magic. On the second floor of a mall in east Delhi is Delhi School of Magic, one of the city’s oldest magic schools. It also doubles up as a magic shop. The walls have the pictures of its founder, well-known magician, Raj Kumar, performing grand illusion acts; the shelves have spectacles, bottles, card castles, pigeon cage and other props for both children and professional magicians.

Sajal Kumar Agarwal, who was once a student of the school and now teaches here, says the number of school children coming to buy props and learn magic has dwindled over the years. “Until a few years ago, about 10 children visited the shop with parents every day to learn magic, but now the numbers have dwindled,” says Agarwal, who used to sell magic toys on the pavements before he became a magician.But the school still gets a few aspiring magicians such as Shivansh Vasudev, 18, who has been learning magic at the school for the past six months. “I feel magic still has a future, but YouTube has killed the aura around magicians,” he says.

Tulsi, one of Delhi’s well-known young magicians, says the Internet has affected those who rely too much on prop-magic. Magic, he says, needs to be subtler and more cerebral. “I do close up magic with individuals, using their phones, pen, notes or whatever they can offer me,” says Tulsi, who performs magic at a city mall three days a week. “But yes, there is always a fear that someone might look up the trick on their phone while I am performing it. Whenever I am alone, I think of new tricks and practice them. There is no other way to survive this internet age,” he says. Raj Kumar agrees, “Magicians need to reinvent themselves in terms of tricks, dress, presentation, performance,” he says.

Narain feels that the government should treat magic as a fine art and make efforts to preserve it. “Many politicians use us during elections and so they should also do something to support us. Otherwise, this ancient tradition will disappear from our lives.”

First Published: Feb 24, 2018 23:32 IST