Harry Potter has competition, as bright, amateur magicians use the lockdown period to master tricks

Lean towards your computer, and pull a coin out of your ear. Join enthusiasts as they attend virtual magic classes and put up shows to impress classmates, families and grandchildren

Many magicians work on perfecting the disappearing act. But in the case of Amaan Mahtani, it is his family that does the disappearing act, when he has a trick to practise on them… for the 10th time in a day.

The 11-year-old magic enthusiast spends at least four hours every weekend and an hour-and-a- half on weekdays, perfecting his craft. A fan of magic ever since his grandfather showed him the disappearing thumb trick at the age of six, Amaan says he managed to seriously pursue magic when the lockdown last year made everything go virtual, and outdoor play time shrunk drastically. “I took a magic course on Udemy, and constantly keep learning from YouTube channels such as MLT Magic Tricks, EvanEraTV and SpideyHypnosis,” he says.

Amaan’s repertoire now includes 30 tricks, including mentalism. “I came up with a few myself after a lot of trial and error,” he says. As we speak over a video call, he makes sponge balls disappear and reappear out of thin air. Gradually, his friends too became invested in the hobby. “I give them a few pointers but never part with secrets of the trade,” he laughs, adjusting his bow tie — Amaan’s always dressed for the part, with dreams of making it to America’s Got Talent some day.

Penn & Teller | Photo Credit: MasterClass

Thanks to free classes on YouTube channels, many have been drawn into the fascinating world of magic. International entertainers such as Penn and Teller are available on MasterClass teaching their skills for a small fee. “Knowing a few fun tricks can make one stand out at parties and other gatherings. It’s also a great ice-breaker,” says Chennai-based magician Arun Loganathan who has been teaching the craft for the last few years.

Since 2020,he started taking virtual classes for students of all age groups — seven to 70 — from within the country as well as Switzerland, the US and Papua New Guinea. This means a lot of late nights and early mornings for Arun. “I have woken up at 3.30 am to teach a student in Philadelphia,” he says.

“The demand has gone up by 65% in one year,” says Arun adding that people are comfortable with online classes as they are more accessible and customised. His students are a mix of novices and those that learn off YouTube, who then approach him to learn advanced magic or the finesse and flourishes that go with the act. It is interesting to note that people do not mind spending hefty sums on acquiring a skill that may just be for recreational purposes; some of Arun’s international clients pay upto a lakh for 30 days.

Magicians are normally known to bamboozle their audience but Arun sometimes feels the tables turn when his young students already know the trick he is teaching and come up with different techniques to solve it. Thanks to Arun’s experience of over two decades in the field, he finds ways to keep challenging them.

While kids form 60% of the student base, magician Nikhil Raj from Bengaluru notices that his sessions for adults are mostly booked by corporates. “I conduct a 50-minute session for them which includes mentalism, illusions, conjuring and hypnotism,” says 25-year-old Nikhil, whose dad was also a magician.

Although Nikhil has been conducting workshops for many years, the last year has been especially busy with over 500 children taking online classes. Sometimes parents learn along with their kids, at times it is the grandparents who learn to entertain their grandchildren… the clientèle is diverse. After completing their course, many of them also put up virtual shows for their families and friends.

Nikhil says that his workshops also weave in personality development and communication skills. “Magic workshops are a lot more than just learning tricks. It prepares you to face any situation that might arise during a show. There could be hecklers… You need to deal with them in a calm manner and make them your fan,” says magician Akshaya over a call from Pune.

Trained by her father, the 25 year-old has been performing on stage since she was three. She did her last show this year in Goa, in the month of April, and was all set to perform at a wedding in New York later this year, when the second wave of COVID-19 disrupted all plans.

“COVID-19 is the reason I started teaching online last year in September, otherwise I would have never done it,” says Akshaya, who has conducted over 40 classes in the last eight months. Though she believes that magic should be experienced live, she says, “Virtual has its own charm and advantages. A lot of things can be done virtually that may not have been possible in a live show. But I can’t disclose what they are,” she laughs mysteriously.

Flair of the craft

Learning magic requires a lot of patience, hard work and constant practice. Not all students have the discipline to persevere. Those that stay are the ones with undying curiosity and dogged determination. “There is a saying, ‘You don’t get into magic, magic gets into you!,” says Akshaya.

“There is a joy when people look in wonder and ask ‘how did you do it’,” says Amaan, who often practises in front of the mirror — not because he is vain — to make sure he can see himself performing from all angles. “You have to make sure that you don’t give away anything from any angle,” he adds.

Akshaya records her practice sessions to make sure every movement is going according to plan. Sleight of hand is important. ‘You can learn the basics but you have to train your hands too’, is the common refrain.

While practitioners of this art form are often associated with vibrant costumes, over the top equipment and material, Arun, Nikhil and Akshaya are being practical and keeping it simple for now. “Because of the lockdown not everyone can access materials and kits, so it is best to use household items like pens, coins, cardboard…,” says Nikhil. “Ultimately, what matters is the finesse with which one performs a trick.”

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