A friend mentioned that he had taken his kids to a magic show and they had loved it. It sounded like a fun thing to do, so Amit went online and booked the tickets. For a magic show you want to sit right up front, especially if you’re all of four years old (the twins, I mean) so we bought the most expensive tickets. There were no half-price tickets for kids under 5 or anything like that (I wonder why) so tickets for the four of us came to… guess how much? 3000 bucks!
Anyway, we’d get good seats and without good seats it wasn’t worth it, or so we told ourselves. Actually, I should have known right then that we were setting ourselves up nicely.
The only memory I have of magic shows as a child are vague and unimpressive. At first, I couldn’t remember ever having been to one. Then I remembered one at the club we used to go to frequently (the club, not the magic show). The magic show was on a stage outdoors in the evening. In daylight. Because it was the club, most of the kids were unattended by parents, who were off doing more exciting things like playing cards or drinking. So the audience was largely kids, with only a few adults. I don’t remember too much about the show, so perhaps I was past the impressionable age; I must have been seven or eight years old. I think there was the usual pulling of things out of hats and so on. I remember that there was a lot of chatter and interaction with the audience, and some calls for volunteers to go and inspect various containers to check that they were really empty. I think a sword was swallowed, and perhaps there was some breathing of fire as well. Towards the end, maybe there was someone being cut in half. I think I generally had fun, but not too much fun. I don’t think I was scared.
Amit, on the other hand, had a lot of enthusiasm for magic shows. Part of it had to do with the magician: P C Sorcar. It’s a bit of a household name in Bengal, like Tagore. All kids are brought up to PC Sorcar – or so I gather. The PC Sorcar who does the shows now is only about 30 years old – apparently too young for a serious magician. Amit, as a child, went and saw his father, who was quite a respectable age by then (though I don’t know how it could be, if you do the math, but that’s what Amit says). The magician tradition grabbed the limelight with the current PC Sorcar’s grandfather, the original PC Sorcar. Or perhaps there were even older PC Sorcars, but my limited knowledge stops at this.
The show was at Town Hall. I’ve never actually been to Town Hall before. I knew it was somewhere near Corporation Circle, but never knew exactly where. I also didn’t know that a magic show is held indoors in a theatre with a stage and with lights, scenery, and curtains just like a play. But, you live and learn.
We arrived kind-of last minute at 3.50 or so for a 4 p.m. show. Amit had neglected to mention until around 3 p.m. that the doors close at 4 and after that they won’t let you in after that. This is quite unusual in India, and when they actually did this and started the show punctually at 4.05 p.m. I was shocked. We were seated in the front row, way over on one side, so we had a clear but rather oblique view of the stage.
We had been greeted at the door of the theatre by a Mickey Mouse character. You know – people dressed in head to foot costume who hang around and offer to shake hands with kids? Both the girls decided they were scared of the Mickey Mouse character. Even as the show started, Mrini knelt on her seat facing backwards, to keep an eye out for him, in case he decided to come looking for her. Tara sat in my lap, put both my arms firmly around her stomach, and refused to let them go for any reason.
The music was rather too loud, especially up in front of the stage, so both girls covered their ears with their hands. Tara later decided it was more effective to put my hands on her ears, so she did that for a while. Eventually they decided that the music was bearable and relaxed a bit.
The show started with the usual pulling of flowers, streamers, and birds out of a – not a hat, exactly, but something round and transparently empty. I felt bad for the birds – the assistants held them by the feet, so that they flapped their wings desperately. Then they held them by pressing the wings firmly against the body. I watched one of the assistants. She looked as if she disliked and was a little scared of the bird. They were snow white birds, either doves or something painted white. They didn’t look very scary.
There was an interlude to show a water container that was always full of water, even when you had just emptied it. I noticed once that when it was emptied, the sound of water falling came a split-second before the water actually started pouring out. Recorded sound, of course.
And then, just five minutes into the show, it progressed to the gory. Someone got into a box and had swords stuck in him. Someone else got into a box and had a massive needle pulled through him starting at the spine and coming out the stomach. And when I say needle, I really mean, more like a sword, with a long thread attached to the hilt. Then PC Sorcar got into the box and they put a woman on a horizontal slab and passed the whole apparatus though. This was already a bit gross.
Then they put a woman in another box, made her stick her hands and feet through holes in the box, and proceeded to “stretch” her till her hand and feet were an impossible distance from her head (and from each other). Then they “carved off” her arms and legs and pushed her disjointed but still moving hands and feet away from her head. Then they put everything back together and let her out of the box smiling and unscathed.
Mrini was watching with sheer terror on her face. She looked as if she might cry, but she didn’t. Tara, sitting in my lap with my arms firmly wrapped around her, was ok.
Then, they brought a giant fan onstage. You know – the kind they show in gruesome third-rate Hollywood flicks. At this point, I put my foot down, Mrini put her shoes on, and we made the long walk to the back of the theatre, blocking the view of the cheaper seats as we crossed the row to the centre aisle, and then made it to the exit at last!
Once we were out, Tara said she was ok to go back in, but Mrini was quite clear that she wanted none of it. I suggested that Amit take Tara back in while Mrini and I stayed out, but Amit said no, it should be a family affair, so we all packed up and went home. As we left, the crowds came out for the interval. So, if we’d only sat through that one act, we could have at least exited inconspicuously.
I wonder whether the twins are just too young for this kind of magic show. I also wonder why the magic show has to go on and on on the same theme of cutting people into pieces. I wonder whether it’s unusual for kids to get scared and want to leave. To be honest, I had to remind myself that it was all a trick and there were little hidden spaces that the performers squeezed themselves into so that other people or things like swords could pass through. If you forgot that, or if you didn’t know that, or if you hadn’t quite grasped the concept that things are not always what they seem, the “magic” would be really scary I should think. Since the twins don’t watch much TV (and no cartoons at all) they probably haven’t understood the concept of acting yet (in the sense of acting on TV or in a movie), far less illusion. And then there was the whole aspect of being in a dark hall with artificial light and sound to add to the experience. Things look so much less scary in an open setting in daylight.
Anyway, it was a disappointing end to an exciting attempt. Amit was probably a little upset that the girls couldn’t enjoy the show the way he remembered doing. I was disappointed that magic shows had come to mean only one gory and gruesome trick after another. The kids were generally of the opinion that this was not what they had expected. And at the end of the day, we’d spent 3K for half an hour of uneasy entertainment and a long drive.