These magic schools might not have any famous fictional character enrolled, but they provide required knowledge and skills to all the aspiring wizards, writes Preeja Aravind
We saw Simon Baker play The Mentalist and, recently, Jack Cutmore-Scott as the famous magician Cameron Black in Deception. Apart from these fictional masters of illusion—we have witnessed the magic through the televised acts of Dynamo, Penn and Teller, Chris Angel, David Blaine, David Copperfield—the list is exhaustive. But when was the last time we talked about our home-grown magicians? Why do we not hear any other name apart from PC Sarkar, Gopinath Muthukad, and PC Sarkar Jr? Are performing magicians a dying breed? No, they are not.
The reason behind our present-day magicians shying away from limelight is because they are attempting a balancing act of performing and teaching. Upcoming magicians, and several established ones, are trying to dispel the myth that ‘magic tricks’ and ‘illusion magic’ is dying in India. These magicians are trying to change the idea that magic is ‘family business’ by setting up, or teaching at the magic schools that have been blooming around the country. These schools are imparting the knowledge and skills needed for performing magic—all for the greater good of the art and wonder of this art form.
Sharing the magic
Take for instance Raj Kumar, the founder of Delhi School of Magic: he has been a magician—and not of the occult and spells kind—for nearly three decades. And, for over two-thirds of that duration, he has also been a promoter of this ‘art form’.
An illusionist since 1982, Kumar was ‘interested in magic’ since he was a child. “I learnt small tricks from the street magicians—the ones you call traditional magicians. I performed as an amateur ever since I graduated from Delhi University in 1982, even while I was working with Mohan Meakin (the Old Monk owning brewery). But in 1989, I quit my job and became a full-time magician.”
And in 1995, Kumar set up Delhi School of Magic. The idea behind it? To share the knowledge of magic and illusionism. “To learn any performing art, be it Bhangra, Bharatanatyam or Odissi—there were, and still are, plenty of offers and institutes that are government-run or government sponsored. But to learn magic, there was nothing anywhere in India,” Kumar stated the reason for the establishment of a magic school.
Promoting the art
“Magic is one of the 64 performing arts of India. It was misappropriated as ‘mystical’ art by some unsavoury factors and the older generation of magicians—they either took the secret of their tricks to the grave, or they only shared it with their off-springs and not anyone else,” he explained.
The genesis of Delhi School of Magic was when Raj Kumar realised that he could teach this art form to those who are interested, and not just because of their pedigree. “An art that is not shared never prospers. That’s why magic never saw any real upliftment in India. It just stayed behind the sweeping capes as no one tried to spread the knowledge further,” Kumar lamented.
The origin story of Magic World in West Bengal is similar. Abhisek Sarkar, who started it in 2006, began it with a single focus: to teach magic to everyone and provide career opportunities to magicians—struggling as well as aspiring. “We wanted to promote the ancient art of magic with new inventions, technologies and manufacturing,” Sarkar said.
In the years since, Magic World has grown several branches—three within West Bengal, one in Assam and one in Punjab. It is a ‘government registered’ society of magicians that has over 500 students enrolled for any of its myriad courses on basic magic and illusion, ventriloquism and advanced level programmes.
Sarkar, who is not yet 30, began his magical journey when he was just 12. His idea of magic, like that of Kumar, to share it with everyone. “In West Bengal, magic is thriving. In my opinion, one of the biggest reasons why it is not getting the desired exposure among common people is perhaps the way we are trying to approach the people. Our courses, our specialized equipment used in tricks, our attempts at becoming facilitators of shows—corporate as well as big stage ones—is somehow not being highlighted properly,” Sarkar said.
Magic World functions three-pronged: teaching magic, manufacturing specialized equipment needed for several magic tricks and liaise as a facilitator for performance opportunities for upcoming magicians.
The science of the art
Apart from the teaching, there is also a social cause—to bring awareness that magic is not superstitious or paranormal activity. It is an artform based on a complex mix of sciences. It is one of the main reasons magician Gopinath Muthukad set up The Academy of Magical Sciences in the heart of Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala.
Chandrasenan Mithirmala, a director and a faculty at the academy, explained: “The mission statement of the academy specifically states popularization of magic. It is our biggest purpose. Till 1996, when the academy was set up by Mr Muthukad, there was no place where magic and illusions were being taught systematically.”
According to him, the classroom teaching of magic only emerged after this school was set up in Kerala. Today, the magic academy—as it is known locally—offers courses that are accredited by Kerala University: A certificate course in magic (CMA) and a diploma course in magical arts (DMA).
Apart from spreading the art, the magic school in Kerala also conducts workshops to educate the general population on the difference between magic and trickery. “Even today, all courses conducted by us are running at a loss. The faculty charges—we have all visiting and established magicians teaching with us—are so much more than what the students pay. But we are not looking at profit. We are looking at making people aware of the difference between magic tricks and superstitions,” Mithirmala asserted. “In fact, our objective is to wean people off superstitious practises that use our magical art form. We want to make everyone aware there it is mentalism and not telepathy, or mindreading or telekinesis,” he said.
Open for all
The thing that is common between all these magic schools is that they do not have any age restriction. As Kumar succinctly put it, “We are open for anyone between eight and 80.” The only requirement for all of them: the student be enthusiastic about learning.
While Delhi School of Magic might not have any age restrictions, the magic academy is a little more selective. Most of its courses are for 16-year-olds and above. Only their summer vacation course is for children between 10 and 15.
And unlike Magic World or the magic academy in Kerala, Delhi School of Magic doesn’t have any physical premises—its courses only run for up to three months. “We go on performance tours for the other nine months,” said Raj Kumar. Delhi School of Magic conducts classes out of other school premises, but the magic academy boasts of a fully-equipped multi-storey building.
Whatever be the reason for any of the magic schools—their objective is the same: spread the knowledge, share the magic and still keep people entertained with these illusions. However, there is a lot to be done in terms of actual awareness of the art form, and some form of support from patrons of these arts for magic to actually flourish, as advocated by Sarkar.