Magic Gone Wrong: Kolkata Magician Drowns Attempting Houdini Stunt

Chanchal Lahiri, a magician based in Kolkata, was killed on Sunday, 16 June, after an unsuccessful attempt at an underwater escape stunt in Ganga’s tributary Hooghly. His body was recovered a day after, on Monday, 17 June.

‘Mandrake’ Lahiri was attempting to imitate legendary Hungarian magician Harry Houdini who was best known for his ‘water torture cell’ acts, in which he would be suspended into a locked glass cabinet, upside down. He would hold his breath for over three minutes, as he escaped from the water-filled tank.

According to witnesses, Lahiri went into the river from Kolkata’s Millennium Park and disappeared near pillar number 28 of the Howrah Bridge.

Not The Magician’s First Attempt

Lahiri, at 35 years, had attempted the Houdini trick several times.

In 2013, he got himself to be suspended into the river in a locked cage. After the trick, he was assaulted by some spectators who claimed they had seen through his trick as the trapdoor was clearly visible. He had also unsuccessfully attempted to walk on the Hooghly river, according to a Times of India report.

Kolkata Police, along with the Disaster Management Group, began a search for him soon after the trick.

“We tried to spot him. But it seems the stream has swept him away. Our divers dived deep, but could not locate him,” the police said on 16 June. “Because of darkness, we had to temporarily stop our search operation on Sunday evening.”

Lahiri, police sources told PTI, had taken permission to show the stunts.

" “But there were no proper security measures with him.” " - Police to PTI

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The Last Act

Lahiri took a ferry from Fairly Place Ghat at around noon and jumped near the pillar number 28 to perform the magic, an onlooker said. “The magic that Lahiri was to perform was very risky and complicated,” the official told PTI.

He was blindfolded, his hands and legs were tied up. He was then picked up in that position from the boat by a crane, stationed on the Howrah Bridge, and lowered into the river. He was supposed to come up from water, by untying himself on his own.

The spectators waiting and cheering for his act started to panic as it had been more than 10 minutes – and Lahiri had not come out of the water.

Lahiri had taken permission from both Kolkata Police and the Kolkata Port Trust, police said.

“He had mentioned the act was to happen in a boat or vessel, and there was no connection with water. Hence, we allowed him. However, he vaguely mentioned an ‘extra act’ which he did not clarify. We are investigating,” a senior police officer said.

(With inputs from PTI and TOI)

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