No Smoke Screens & Hat Tricks – A New-Age Mentalist On Magic In India

No Smoke Screens & Hat Tricks – A New-Age Mentalist On Magic In India
Vivek Desai

The relationship between magic and India can be traced to as far back as the Harappan civilisation. Illusion, which is the foundation of magic, found a place in prominent Indian religious texts such as the Rig Veda where it is referred to as Maya. India even to the present day is called the land of snake charmers and the mystic, an unfortunate misconception that is gradually being done away with. With high-rises cropping up with the blink of an eye and the fast-paced life that today’s Indians have become accustomed to, India’s tryst with magic has taken a back seat with this age-old practice disappearing into the shadows of looming corporates.

Having said that, India has seen a sudden increase in the number of people opting for unconventional professions, which would be considered impractical career choices even as recently 10 years ago. Stand up comedians, tattoo artists, and social media influencers are examples of professions that would be looked at with much scepticism in the recent past but are now very viable careers to opt for. Another such profession is that of a magician. Having moved on from sherwani-clad jaadugars and snake charmers, the new age magicians have carved a niche for themselves in the West and are gradually doing the same in our country.

Vivek Desai, 22, is a full-time magician and mentalist. Based out of Mumbai and Pune, Desai has been performing magic professionally for four years now. “I used to live in California as a child and I would visit Las Vegas very frequently with my parents. I ended up meeting several magicians while there and we also attended several stage magic shows, that’s when my interest in the art grew,” said Desai about his initial encounter with magic. A magician and mentalist, Desai also happens to be the co-founder of the Pune Comedy Festival.

“I feel you can compare the current modern magic and mentalism scene in India to that of the Indian comedy scene back in 2012-13. It has a huge potential audience but it has yet to really explode like comedy has in the past few years.In fact, I think Magic has an even bigger potential audience than comedy, as a lot of visual tricks transcend language barriers and unlike stand up comedy, magic and mentalism tricks aren’t necessarily subjective in nature since they have a very clear process and end result. In the next few years I fully expect to see a rise in demand for close up as well as stage magic and mentalism once enough people start pursuing the art full time.Right now there is a very robust corporate scene in my field but my next goal is to do a fully ticketed national tour.I think social media will play a large role in creating more hype for the scene, ” said Desai, who is optimistic about the future of professional magicians in India.

However, while being optimistic, Desai admits that there are a considerable amount of challenges that Indian magicians face. “The biggest challenge is to educate a lot of the public about the differences between the new generation of magicians and mentalists today, who perform effects closer to what you see on international television rather than the costumed stage illusions Indians are more accustomed to seeing for the past few decades. Clients usually are not keen to book mentalists and magicians for the first time because they imagine a man in a gold costume wearing a turban, producing pigeons from his hands, performing tricks that clearly look staged with giant props that are clearly rigged. Clearing this misconception is probably the biggest hurdle,” said Desai.

Inspired by international magicians such as David Blaine, Derren Brown, Penn & Teller, Dan & Dave Buck and Shawn Farquhar, Desai talks about the power of magic to transcend geographical boundaries. “Magic isn’t topical, so while a comedy video that’s viral in say the UK might not go viral in India (because of lack of context), the same can’t be said for magic videos. Today, Indian magicians are stepping up and can be seen competing with international acts for viewership,” said Desai.

So, to all those aspiring magicians who get a thrill out of knocking the socks off of people and blowing their minds — now is the time to go out there and introduce Indians to the world of entertainment that lies within magic. It may sound corny, but with the current circumstances and darkness that exists in the world, we could all use a bit of excitement and, well, magic.

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