Indian stuntman dies after trying to replicate Houdini river escape

Joe Wallen
Chanchal Lahiri, 41 – also known as the Wizard Mandrake – drowned in the Hooghly River - AFP

An Indian magician has died after being lowered into a river while blindfolded and shackled in an attempt to re-create a famous Harry Houdini stunt.

Police confirmed that Chanchal Lahiri, 41 – also known as the Wizard Mandrake – drowned in the Hooghly River in West Bengal state after failing to break free of the six locks and chain.

In front of an expectant crowd, Mr Lahiri was meant to escape and swim to shore. But the alarm was raised after he did not appear after ten minutes.

Still tied with the chain, his body then washed up roughly 1km from where he was submerged and was identified late last night.

“He was a great stunt artist and this is a big loss for the Indian magic community,” said Madan Bharti, a historian of Indian magic.

Lahiri failed to break free of the six locks and chain he had bound himself with Credit:  REUTERS

In an interview with the BBC before undergoing the stunt Mr Lahiri appeared fully aware of the risk it could pose to his life.

“If I can free myself it will be magic, if I cannot, it will be tragic,” he said ominously.

In 1912, American-Hungarian illusionist Harry Houdini freed himself in just 57 seconds from a nailed and roped packing crate that had been lowered into New York’s East River.

It was also not the first stunt that Mr  Lahiri, from Kolkata, had attempted in the Hooghly River.

Over twenty years ago he lowered himself into its waters inside a glass box but managed to safely escape.

Sumit Kharbanda, the president of the Indian Brotherhood of Magicians in Delhi, expressed his surprise at Mr Lahiri’s death, saying the stuntman was experienced.

“He used to practice in swimming pools and rivers,” Mr Kharbanda said.

“All magic has to be perfect and it takes a lot of practice, but even with practice things can go wrong. This was a very dangerous performance.

“I don’t know if it was a breathing issue of just not being able to undo the locks.”