As it has with most performance arts, the internet has completely changed the rules when it comes to magic. While many younger magicians have embraced a radically transformed version of the art that plays well on YouTube, many older magicians with a more traditional view of the industry are struggling to stay afloat.
Nowhere is that more obvious than in India, where a rich history of live magic is being threatened by performers quitting the industry in droves. A report in GulfNews featured interviews with a number of sadly retired magicians, many of whom blame the internet, or their lack of a response to it, for the premature ending of their magic careers.
“When people began shifting to the electronic media, I did not take the transformation seriously,” said Prakash Pant, a former magician now working as a real estate broker. “Not adapting to change soon led to facing awkward moments during the shows. Before I realised what harm my obstinacy would do, the shows stopped coming.”
Krishan Gopal is no longer a magician, but has turned his reputation for magic performances to his advantage. He now provides consultation for psychosomatic ailments and depression.
“Magic is a fine art that requires immense practice,” he explained, “but even in the age of technological advancement, some people continue to think that a magician is a tantric (occultist) and approach me for solutions for all kinds of weird problems.”
Even successful performers like Op Sharma and Op Sharma Junior have felt the internet’s impact on their business.
“There is so much information and entertainment available on the Internet that people tend to spend a lot of time online and they are left with little time to step out of the confines of their house to enjoy live shows,” Op Sharma Jr. told local media.
But the issue is not just a matter of magicians being unable to pull people away from their computer screens. Op Sharma and son also think the Indian government’s lack of spending on the arts is also contributing to the declining interest in magic.
“In foreign countries, governments come forth to encourage talent and support the artistes,” they said. “In several cities of India, we have to perform at cinema halls or at other places because there are no government auditoriums, which points to the fact that cultural activities are not being promoted.”
My grandmother once told me you can’t lie to a liar. Actually, that’s not true. What she really told me can’t be printed here, but that lying to a liar thing was the gist of it.
Perhaps that’s why so many magicians, be they people of faith or otherwise, seem to embrace skepticism. Miracles seem a lot less impressive when you know how they’re done. Such is the case for veteran magicians, Op Sharma and his son, Op Sharma Jr., also known as Satayaprakash. The pair are currently touring India, performing shows meant to undermine and expose “Godmen;” self-styled gurus who use simple magic tricks to attract followers.
“Through our magic, we aim to make people aware of superstitions and pull them out of the clutches of their old-fashioned beliefs,” Satayaprakash told the local press. “Self-styled Godmen befool people with simple acts of hypnotism. I show my audience how a ring can spew ash and how a Rs 100 note can turn into Rs 500. These are all tricks and mind games and one should not fall for them blindly.”
Like many of his western peers Satyaparkash worries that the internet might be keeping audiences away from live shows, denying them a crucial aspect of the magic experience.
“There is so much information and entertainment available on the Internet that people tend to spend a lot of time online and they are left with little time to step out of the confines of their house to enjoy live shows.”
“Magic, however, is one such art which is best enjoyed when watched live,” he continued. “The element of surprise is lost when we watch videos on the Internet. We feel it more when it happens in front of our eyes. Although there are many youngsters who are interested in learning the art, the number of spectators has not been very encouraging.”
Still, Satyaprakash’s own sons are looking to follow in the footsteps of their father and grandfather.
“My sons are also keen on learning and taking up the art,” he said, “but I have told them to study first and then get involved in this. The more they study, the better magicians they will become since it all involves science and a little art.”