One is not quite sure what to expect when entering a building with the signs “Karnataka Magic Academy Trust” and “Magic Avenue — one-stop shop for all your magic requirements”. The exterior itself is unprepossessing apart from the large signboards, and the office with its showcase of magic tricks for sale is more ‘90s banal than magician’s fantasy world. The man whose realm it is, MC Sarcar, is ensconced in an armchair in an inner chamber. Since this is an unannounced visit, he’s in mufti (no top hats or cloaks) but is genial enough. “I established the academy in 1987 — it’s the only magic academy in Asia recognised by the government,” says Sarcar, a portly gentleman with a french beard. The septuagenarian has recently succeeded in expanding the scope of his trust from Karnataka to an all-India trust and will be opening branches in Mumbai and Delhi over the next couple of weeks. “Through my magic, I want to convince people not to run after charlatans and those promoting black magic... Magic is a science,” says Sarcar. His school offers three-month “hobby” courses for Rs 10,000 and a one-year course for Rs 30,000. The admission cards he shows are of people from diverse backgrounds, including doctors, army officers and a lady in the hospitality industry, and in age from five year-olds to sixty year-olds. What attracts all these people to a course in magic? “Learning magic is also a way to build your confidence. You are able to perform in front of a number of people,” he says.
Chirag Agarwal, a 14-year-old who learns magic from Sarcar, says he has been going to the academy for five years. “I enrolled for the course because I wanted to do something different... stand out from the crowd,” says the ninth grade student, over the phone. Agarwal now does solo shows for corporate launches and the like, and also landed the role of school bully in the soon-to-be-released Ang Lee film Life of Pi. Agarwal says he charges upwards of Rs 25,000 for his solo performances, which can go on for three hours. Sarcar dispels the notion that magicians may not be getting paid well in a world where people have huge variety of entertainment options to choose from, and says they can get paid lakhs of rupees for shows. Since its inception, the academy has trained 11,000 magic enthusiasts, he says.
Politicians and ministers have also come to attend classes, he says, and even legendary field marshall SM Cariappa! “I had performed at his estate in Coorg after which he wanted to learn magic,” says Sarcar. Interestingly, notes of gratitude from students include some from priests. “Yes, I have taught a lot of priests but I have no idea what they use the magic for,” Sarcar says, laughing. The politicians used to come so that they themselves would not fall prey to tricksters, he says.
Sarcar prefers to talk more about his son Ugesh Sarcar, who has a show of his own on television. A poster of Ugesh walking on water occupies an entire wall in the room and I am shown various DVDs of his performances. It was Ugesh’s hands that performed the magic tricks in Don 2 though it was Shah Rukh Khan’s face, says the visibly proud father. While Ugesh learnt from his father, Sarcar himself wandered into magic as a child because he believed it might help him meet his mother, who had passed away. “I joined a magician called Gogiya Pasha when I was eight and remained with him. My first solo show was in 1964.” He has done close to 34,000 shows so far, and officially retired in the early ‘90s. But he still has a few tricks up his sleeve. He makes a pearl appear and disappear on a tiny paddle by waving it to and fro, while I watch in fascination. Sarcar also exports his magic tricks to 26 countries, branded under his son’s name and is now offering to teach magic to people with disabilities and cancer patients for free. “I can make a blind person learn and perform magic tricks,” he says confidently.
The building exterior too might be revamped with a new signboard announcing the trust’s all-India trust. “It will be a first-class board with neon lights,” he promises.