Hearing stories of kings and queens, princes and princesses, talking animals and trees, or even walking mountains seem real. While world over children grow up on similar tales of wonder, in India it is particularly so because this is the land of magic.
For years, even when the nation was on a path to becoming a global superpower, foreigners believed India to be a land of snake charmers and mystics who could turn ropes into snakes or climb a rope, enchanting people standing by the road side. Magic has a long tradition in India, be it with the abounding stories of how Bhanumati could enchant thousands of people at the same time to tales of how P C Sorcar Senior could hypnotize an auditorium full of people into believing he has arrived on time even after being late by hours or the more glitzy show put up by K Lal, whose funeral procession at Ahmedabad, recently drew thousands.
All, however, might not be magical with the world of Indian magic. Even as Indian magicians are trying to revive their ancient art, they are almost a lost breed. While the Sorcar family, the Lals and few others have kept the tradition alive, the magic of masala movies and glamourous sporting events have taken away much of the edge from the magicians and the illusionists, who were once superstars, performing to packed halls. Amidst a crowd of ultra glitzy cricket shows, uber-glamorous football matches and release of ‘hundred-crore club’ films what went completely unnoticed is the achievement of an Indian magician. Samraj, a 58-year-old civil engineer-turned-magician from Kerala, won the prestigious Merlin Award. It was handed over to him by the president of the International Society of Magicians, Tony Hassini, personally at Hyderabad, in July.
Considered the Oscar Award of the magic world and given away by the Las Vegas-based Society, the award is the highest achievement for any magician around the globe. The jury evaluated Samraj’s magic events like ‘Tragic end of Titanic’, ‘The graveyard escape’ and ‘The great Indian rope trick.’ While previous recipients include K. Lal and Sorcar Junior among others, it’s a rare triumph for a magician and is taken as a serious step forward by peers. Yet, India seemed totally oblivious to it.
Indian magicians have been performing this art for ages by heart and not only for income. But it is very sorry to say that the present condition of Indian magic is not so pleasant. Indian magic goes very slow. New types of presentation, set-up and items are very rare. It is like old wine in an old bottle. The number of professional magicians is very rare and their monthly income from magic is extrmely meagre.
PC Sorcar Jr said that he is willing to help any government or private establishment in promoting magic in India. ‘I am also planning to set up a magic institute, which I am hopeful that people will come to in large numbers for greater participation to save this industry from dying,’ Sorcar says. Others feel that there are five reasons for the present condition of Indian magicians. These include lack of innovation in magic props, presentation and proper set-up for magic.
Besides, poor monetary condition of Indian magicians, less interest to invest in publicity and no media support is killing the once acclaimed industry. Also, the ticket rates of shows in India are not sufficient to make a magician fully professional in this field, and the number of magic shows is anyway very less. These issues have become the stumbling block in the way of success.
Ramesh Lal, a local magician in West Bengal feels that numbers of popular and public known magicians are very less in India and there should be a unified platform for the magician to pitch for their demands from the union government in reviving the dying industry.
‘Like other professions, there should be a competition and school children should be involved more in making this profession towards a next goal. Most of us have performed shows in our own respective states and have thus failed to rouse universal appeal. It is time for all of us to stand together to take our demands or suggestions before the government in promoting magic as a profession like other ones,’ he adds.
There are reports that the new NDA government is planning to induct magicians, circus artistes and other similar such performers under the centre’s grants and schemes, which will give them a relief in their old age. Though the discussion is in a very preliminary stage, but many feel that the initiatives will bring a sigh of relief for thousands of such artistes in India who even find it difficult to earn a meal a day.