If Delhi is giving space to new gigs some age-old passions are being elbowed out. If you are in Ghaziabad, it is hard to miss the face of magician O.P. Sharma, pasted on every other auto rickshaw, but if you look closely the venue of his show is Subhash Palace, an erstwhile cinema hall in Bhopura on the Delhi-Ghaziabad border. It is a marriage of a centre and a performer let down by the patrons. In the last few years magic has gradually been shunted out of the city. There was a time when Peareylal Bhawan near ITO was a popular centre for magic shows. “The rates for hiring a venue in Delhi or any other big city are so high that we can no longer afford to showcase our talent there. It costs around 50,000- 60,000 rupees to rent an upmarket venue in Delhi for an evening and then spend almost an equal amount on publicity. Since our running costs are also high, it no longer remains commercially viable. We cannot recover an investment of Rs.1.5 lakh per night only through the sale of tickets. And even if we do where is the cushion to try something new or bigger,” says Sharma.
Another hitch is that not many venues are eager to let out their premises for a fortnight because many of them run classes for vocational courses. “Taking permission from different departments of the government is another issue. Stunt acts require an elaborate set of permissions and unless they are available at one counter it becomes very time consuming for us.” He can no longer make an elephant vanish from the stage because animal rights groups feel offended. The seasoned magician finds the government attitude towards magic stepmotherly. “Magic is not considered an art and is not given the respect it deserves in the bureaucratic circle. It is an expensive medium. We need infrastructural support from the government so that we can compete with the best in the world. It is an Indian art but we are losing out on the world stage because we are performing the same tricks for many years.”
And perhaps that’s why it is being pushed to the corners of the city where people might believe in black magic. “That is the image I am fighting against. Magic shows can play a role in getting rid of superstitions prevalent in the society. Whenever I take the stage I tell the audience whatever I do is scientific, rational and can be learnt. There is no divine or ghostly element in it,” says Sharma who also runs a magic school in Kanpur.
The approach runs the risk of taking the mystery out of magic at a time when a blockbuster like Dhoom 3 has punctured a magician’s secret and a television commercial has taken the surprise out of the timeless trick of dividing the body into two parts. “These are no competition. Magic gives goosebumps when it is played out live and it retains its entertainment value both for the gentry and the masses. The hitch is we don’t have enough avenues to showcase our talent.”