By Barkha Kumari
Apr 16, 2017
A brotherhood of magicians meets to polish their craft, and tell people how much there is to magic than card tricks and children’s birthday parties
Magicians never reveal their secrets, they say. Except to each other, that is. This is how to keep magic interesting for spectators. As long as illusion and mystery shrouds it the trade will survive. The secrets, therefore, must remain within the practising circles. Magicians swap secrets based on trust – so they know ideas won’t be copied, or adapted, without permission.
But plagiarism need not be fretted about at the Magic Invitational, a brotherhood of 20-odd illusionists, mind-readers, conjurers, clowns and shadow players. This lot are not the dabblers you remember from a child’s birthday party, they are pros with decades of experience. They meet to learn from and update each other. They push the envelope for magic, too, which is why their last gathering was opened up to amateurs. “If one magician rises, the fraternity will too,” believes its founder, Nakul Shenoy, a mind reader.
Meeting isn’t always easy, though. Barring a handful of members, most live beyond Bengaluru’s city limits. Plus, their calendars are blocked with revenue-generating public and corporate shows. Since their inception in 2009, the group has only ever met in full force about four times. Smaller gatherings of five to six magicians are easier to organise as and when members visit town. They also stay in touch online in a non-heirachical way – peers, mentors and critics altogether – “we are an informal group, a bunch of friends, and we have no plans to form a formal association. The moment hierarchies are drawn, the real purpose of why we are a group takes a backseat,” Shenoy believes.
It all began after Shenoy’s trips to Las Vegas between 2006 and 2009. The 39-year-old was invited to be part of a closed group of 20 international magicians, “we discussed our half-baked ideas and the mechanics of our acts. When I came out of the room I realised some of the magicians I’d just met were legends – names I had only read in books; a few were even underground artists – and here they were discussing their secrets openly. There is no dearth of clubs for amateur magicians in India, but what about professionals? Where can we go to upgrade our skills?” says Shenoy. The first Magic Invitational meet-up took place in February 2009 with a dozen of his magician mates. Other members came in via referrals as ethics and etiquette took shape, facilitated by the existing lot. “I have a selfish agenda behind Magic Invitational, of course. I would like to be surrounded by top-notch performers and pick their brains.”
At the meetups, the members demonstrate new tricks, ask for feedback, discuss ways to improvise an act or overcome a glitch, or exchange news from the world of magic — basically talk shop. If you don’t like criticism, stay away. Shenoy says, “a few members left because we ripped their acts apart. We give honest or blunt feedback. How else will we be of any value?”
A frequently pondered topic is presenting a character the audience can relate to and fall in love with. Millionaire illusionist, David Copperfield, for instance, are a package deal of more than mind-boggling, eye-duping, jaw-dropping acts. He weaves them around his own biography. So stagecraft and characterisation are as important for magicians as they are for actors, says Mumbai-based Tejas Malode who is a pupil at the forum. This is why the Invitational invites actors, lighting directors, musicians, and choreographers to chip in and help them become entertainers – use sound, lights, mime, footwork and goofy moves to their advantage. Malode says, “acting involves many techniques. Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan are in different leagues to, say, Arshad Warsi or Tusshar Kapoor – because they own their techniques and bring their personalities to stage.”
They have learned to survive competition offstage, and market themselves, sell your show to event managers or corporate houses. “Illusionists, conjurers, mind-benders are all nothing but magicians; but these labels do matter. They are your USP,” explains Shenoy. Sessions have also explored Internet fame. “I used to wonder how so many videos went viral. Now I know there are ways to make them do that,” says escapalogist and shadow play artist, the Indian Houdini, Prahlad Acharya.
And yet, members admit that it’s often difficult to pull audiences to their shows. Easy access to online entertainment poses a big challenge. The other obstacle is the perception of magicians. “When you ask somebody in India ‘Have you seen a magic show?’, they might say, ‘Yes, I saw it when I was 15’. And that becomes their first and last magic outing. That’s the struggle: how do we convince people that all shows are different, one magician is different from another, and that one magician can do different tricks? Like the movies, each show is a different experience.” Plus, an escape from realism we all need from time to time.