A conference of female magicians is the place to learn some new tricks, discovers Deepika Arwind
MANOMANI YONA, or ‘Magic Mano’ as she christened herself a few weeks ago, walks onstage with the assurance of one who knows her kitchen well. A minute later, three aluminum containers in her ‘kitchen’ are ablaze. Smiling at the collective gasp from the audience, she grows animated as a chicken appears out of nowhere to perch on her pans. The magician in her green apron then cooks a dubious looking omelette — on a flame that emerges straight from her assistant’s head.
The thunder outside is a perfect setting for Thiruvananthapuram’s unique convention at the Magic Academy — a significant location in the history of magic in India. Maya 2010, the first all-women’s confluence of magicians, has close to 50 women of varying ages from around the country. A glowing sign with a yellow sickle and hammer at the entrance reads: “Fair we are in life, Fairer we are in magic.”
The Magic Academy was started by illusionist Gopinath Muthukad in 1996 after receiving a grant from the state government. Maya was created so women could occupy a place in the world of magic, apart from being eye-candy at male-dominated magic shows. “There are over 300 female magicians in the country, it was time they came out on a common platform,” says Muthukad. “In fact, Kerala is the only state in which the Sangeet Natak Academy recognises magic as a performance art,” he adds proudly.
Magic Mano is in some ways exactly the sort of closet magician Muthukad hoped to liberate. Wife of Coimbatore-based comedian and trickster Palladam M Yona, she has managed his performances for over 30 years. Since the past 30 days, all she has thought of is her own performance. “My husband designed the whole concept for me,” she says, sparkling backstage in her brocade sari and wedding jewellery. The set alone cost Rs 20,000 and Yona is unsure if it can be re-used. “Where will she perform again?” he asks. Mano seems unperturbed that her first performance could be her last.
For Pearl (21) and Zenia (13) — daughters of Mumbai-based conjurer Mhelly Bhumgara — magic is a viable career option. Easily the most fashion conscious of the lot with four costume changes, their father works tirelessly to ensure they have everything they need. “We’re definitely going to see a new generation of female magicians, especially from families of professional magicians,” says Bhumgara. A professional magician can earn roughly Rs 10,000 to a lakh for a single show, and with a little PR magic, daily shows are possible.
But Luna Shimada, a feisty magician from Las Vegas is clearly the audience favourite as she levitates tables with her husband Losander amid wild hooting. Perhaps in the future, women will take magic to the streets — beyond flashy lights and clunky props — and claim something they didn’t know they could. They may even hire brawny, scantily – clad male assistants.