Saturday, June 09, 2018

The Man Who Still Casts A Spell

Having just completed 35 years, Magician Samraj looks back at his life and career

By Shevlin Sebastian

At the Pangode military camp, in Thiruvananthapuram, the audience watched with bated breath as Magician Samraj said that he would blow up a box which contained a girl, Revathi (name changed) by using a time bomb.

But unknown to him, when the time came to use the bomb, because of a miscommunication, Revathi had not left the box. ‘So, when the bomb burst, there was a scream,” says Samraj, who has just completed 35 years as a magician. “We dropped the stage curtain. And when we opened the box, we saw that Revathi was soaked with blood. She was immediately rushed to the hospital.”

But Samraj could not stop the show. Instead, after a few minutes, he appeared on stage and said, “Okay where are we now? The next item is Standing Lady Illusion.”

Thankfully, the girl survived. “Today, she is happily married with two children,” says Samraj.

In a two-and-a-half-hour programme, there will be many mistakes. “But I have to make sure that the audience is not aware of these mistakes,” says Samraj. “This comes from experience.”

Once, during a show at Changanacherry, Samraj was moving towards the stage when his face hit something and he began bleeding. “But I went to the stage and the people thought that this was all part of the item regarding a ghost,” he says, with a smile.

Thus far, Samraj has done over 8000 performances, with the help of a 30 member troupe which includes his wife and two sons. 

Asked the qualities needed to be a good magician, he says, “A magician should be a very good actor. We produce and are able to disappear many items. To do this successfully, you have to be confident and have the ability to distract the audience with our actions. Secondly, you must never be nervous, no matter what happens.”

Asked his strong point, Samraj says simply, “I am a story-teller. And most magicians aren't.”

And he gives an example. One show is called the Tragic End of The Titanic. Very early in the act, an actual ship enters the stage. There is a magician called Robert Samraj from Athens who is performing for the guests on the Titanic. Soon, through visuals, the ship hits an iceberg and sinks. “The magician also dies,” says Samraj. “But his soul is wandering about. Wherever a magic show is taking place, his soul is present.”

Suddenly a coffin appears on the stage. It contains Robert's body. But when the coffin is opened, it is a skeleton. Then the coffin is put up in a standing position. The coffin is closed. Then slowly, a shadow appears, the coffin shatters and the real Samraj comes out of the coffin.

“All this is done, accompanied by high-decibel music,” says Samraj.

An early fascination

When Samraj was seven years old, a street magician came to the Govt. L.P. School, at Mullikulangara where he studied. “He showed an empty Bournvita can, put some sand in it, closed the can, then opened it and pulled out green grapes,” says the 62-year-old Samraj. “I ate it. I thought it would be plastic. I was stunned. How did he do it?”

He could not sleep at night trying to figure out how it was done. On the third day, Samraj got the answer. “I made a tin and did the same magic,” he says. “That was how I came to be regarded as Junior Mandrake.”

When he told his parents that he wanted to be a magician, his mother gave him a slap and told him to concentrate on his studies. So he forgot about magic. But when he went to Mumbai, for a job, years later, at Malad station, he saw a street-side magician doing a show.

After it was over, Samraj asked the magician, “Can you teach me?”

He said, “No.”

Samraj said, “Please.”

He asked Samraj whether he had any money.

Samraj replied, “Rs 25.”

So he took it and told Samraj to come the next evening at Platform No. 2 at Mahim station. “I felt very happy,” says Samraj. “However, the next day when I went to Mahim station, he did not come. So, in the end, he cheated me. But now I appreciate him.”

Because after every programme today, there will be at least 25 children and parents who approach Samraj to teach them magic. “So I could have easily told them, 'Give me Rs 250 or Rs 500 or Rs 1000',” he says. “And they would be ready to pay me. But would they learn the art? They can learn but they cannot perform it.  So, what the street magician did to me was absolutely right.”

Anyway, in 1982, Samraj got a job as a civil engineer in a company at Muscat. Soon he heard that there was a plumber by the name of Kutty who was also a magician.

“He had learnt his tricks from Vazhakunnam Neelakanthan Namboothiri or Prof. Vazhakkunnam (1903–1983) who is known as the Grandfather of Kerala Magic,” he says. Samraj learnt the tricks from Kutty and set out on his magic carpet journey which continues to this day...  

(The New Indian Express, Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode)

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