A new bag of tricks: How magicians are upping their online game

Can someone in Villivakkam read your mind from Vishakapatnam? Meet the magicians who are now entertaining the world from their living rooms

It is a Saturday evening, and Arun the mentalist — or ATM, as he calls himself — has his eyes focussed on the camera. He is ready to unleash one of his most popular tricks on the 50-plus audience who have turned up for his live virtual show on Zoom.

He writes on a piece of paper, and places it inside a bowl that everyone can see. He then requests volunteers from the audience, and three — from different parts of the world, unrelated to each other — give answers to three questions: favourite holiday destination, what they would eat there and the rough cost of this dinner.

Minutes later, Arun opens that piece of paper and shows the world that he had already predicted these answers: the US, curd rice and $99, plus tax.

The audience unmute themselves and clap in disbelief. From his modest Villivakkam residence in Chennai, Arun Loganathan grins widely as he bows in acknowledgement.

Arun the mentalist 

For Arun and many of his peers in the magic-mentalist industry, the world has opened up online to witness their magic that unfolds in their drawing rooms.

When the pandemic and lockdown hit, most of the corporate world adapted to a rigorous WFH routine. But the transition was not so smooth for magicians and performers, who thrive on the energy and allure of the stage.

A new act

Delhi-based illusionist Karan Singh, who has been performing since 2008, used the lockdown to write a new show: one that would include new tricks for online performances.

Karan Singh  

“Writing a show generally takes six to eight months but due to the increased frequency of the performances during lockdown, I could do it in a few weeks,” he says. He has been presenting that, and doing magic videos in collaboration with comedians and influencers like Samay Raina, Tanmay Bhat and Bhuvan Bam for the past months.

Karan believes that the pandemic has opened up a world of possibilities for performers. “It is a little difficult for magicians as they require a bigger space and props, but for mentalists who can read your mind and figure out your ATM pin or phone password, a corner of the house is enough,” says Karan, who adds that he is going the extra mile to adapt to international performances — he recently performed at 3am IST for audiences in the US and the UK.

Mumbai-based Naman Anand is a relatively new entrant in the magic space; he started his professional career with virtual shows earlier this year, after many years of dabbling in it as a hobby. “During virtual shows, every person feels like they have a prized front-row seat,” says Naman.

Naman Anand  

Nikhil Raj has been doing something similar from Bengaluru; the illusionist has been trying to incorporate elements of comedy in his online shows, which revolve around mentalism and conjuring. “In one of my initial shows, a member of the audience pointed out that I was doing tricks using props from my desk. Since then, I tell audiences to keep something ready in their house; objects like pen, paper and phone, and try to perform a trick using that,” adds Nikhil, who has been busy these last few months, with over 35 virtual sessions.

Nikhil Raj  

Preparation for such online shows requires time, effort and money. Arun took a ride to Ritchie Street, Chennai’s well-known electronics hub, to purchase a couple of lights, a microphone and a green screen. He converted a part of his bedroom to a studio containing a two-camera setup. “My home is my stage now,” beams Arun, who also attempted a blindfold act virtually.

The wow factor

With such virtual shows being the new normal, how do magicians plan their future performances?

Addressing this question was the legendary magician David Copperfield, who spoke about various challenges on a recent Facebook Live hosted by Chennai-based popular magician SAC Vasanth. Vasanth, who has done numerous TV shows involving magic, might be popular for being the “man who predicted Garry Kasparov’s next move” but the last few months sans live stage shows have been a challenge.

“The transition was difficult,” he admits, “Even on a live stage, we are asked a hundred questions. On an online platform, we need to convince audiences. Believability is a big factor. David [Copperfield] stressed about the need to pick your genre of magic, and improve presentation skills.”

Vasanth seems to have cracked that; since March, he has done more than 30 virtual shows, most of them ticketed. “We keep it limited to 25 tickets, priced at ₹2,000 each for a one-hour show. The advantage is that everyone in the family can gather around the laptop and enjoy the show.” For such events, he does tricks connecting all 25 people — they each think of a number that adds up to one grand number, which Vasanth reveals he had predicted on his Instagram page a day before!

He has also been doing special shows for companies in which he incorporates elements from their line of work. For Saint Gobain employees, Vasanth inserted a prediction inside a piece of glass, while for the staff of Nippon Paint, he worked out a few special tricks using colour concepts. “I do miss the claps and interaction that happens during live stage shows, but we are still entertaining audiences. Magic is all about making people happy. That’s what matters.”

(With inputs from Aishwarya Upadhye)

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