As It Happens

Indian magician who drowned during river escape 'sacrificed his life' for magic: colleague

The body of an Indian magician  Chanchal Lahiri, who was attempting a Houdini-styled stunt in the Ganges River, has been found, according to Indian media.

Chanchal Lahiri died while attempting a Houdini-style escape in the Ganges River

Indian magician Chanchal Lahiri is pictured being lowered into a river tied up in chains and ropes in a Houdini-inspired stunt before his death on Sunday. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)
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Indian magician Chanchal Lahiri will always be remembered for his "great magic acts," says his colleague. 

Lahiri — known as Mandrake — was lowered into the Ganges River in Kolkata on Sunday, wrapped a straight jacket, chains and ropes. He was expected to escape after just seconds, but the stunt went wrong and he did not reappear.

Divers recovered his body Monday evening, reports Indian news site Firstpost.com.

Sumit Kharbanda, president of the Indian Brotherhood of Magicians in Delhi, spoke with As It Happens host Carol Off about what went wrong. Here is part of that conversation. 

How are you dealing with the news that your magician colleague Chanchal Lahiri has died attempting this act?

That's really ... sad news for us magicians because we as a community, we always appreciate magicians who look and try to do something different … to revive this magic art.

And he was very keen, always keen, to do something new.

And Mr. Lahiri did a lot of great magic acts ... for which he was remembered. And he did the same act in 2003 and he [successfully] came out from the river. But this time, luck was not in his favour.

Lahiri, known by his stage name Jadugar Mandrake, prepares to be lowered into the Ganges River. He did not emerge and his body was recovered on Monday. ( STR/AFP/Getty Images)

At what point did people who were on the boat watching … realize that the magic had gone terribly wrong?

When he was lowered in the river and he tried to remove ...  the jacket, chains and locks. The time which he took to remove all the locks, that was much more than expected.

So we were supposed to come out from all the locks within 20 to 25 seconds and maybe there was some mistake.

And they waited for even 10 minutes.

The stream was even so big that they even expected the magician to come out after 10 minutes. That he would be traveling one or two kilometres ahead and he would be coming out from the river. But he could not.

I understand ... that his family was also watching this stunt. It must have been devastating for them.

Yes, of course.

Could they learn what had gone wrong?  

It was not that easy to find out because only a magician knows how to escape.

So I think ... it was difficult for the family members to understand what went wrong because most magicians don't share the secret with anyone.

A caged Lahiri is lowered into the Hooghly River from Kolkata's Howrah Bridge Feb. 24, 2002. Lahiri escaped from the locked cage about 15 seconds after it was submerged. (Jayanta Shaw/Reuters)

Apparently … among his last words were: "If I can open it up then it will be magic, but if I can't it will be tragic." What do you make of that?

We look to do something big and we all love this art, magic.

He even sacrificed his life … by doing this magic.

If he would have been successful … it would be all the love he'd be getting from all the crowds of people.

You and the others in the Brotherhood of Magicians of India, you take tremendous risks with your lives. Why do you do it?

Magic is something which always fascinates the kids, elders, families. So we always look for something new.

These acts always scare people and always you get the bigger position. People never forget.

Written by Sarah Jackson. Produced by Chris Harbord. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

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