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Magician feared dead as Houdini-inspired stunt in river goes wrong

An Indian magician who went missing after being lowered into a river while tied up with chains and ropes in a Houdini-inspired stunt is feared drowned, police said Monday. Chanchal Lahiri, known by his stage name "Jadugar Mandrake" (Wizard Mandrake), was lowered by winch into the river in Kolkata on Sunday in a yellow and red costume.

But the 40-year-old, his legs and his arms tightly bound, failed to emerge from the water, to the horror of onlookers including his family and team members. Rescue workers have been scouring the fast-flowing murky waters since Sunday but he was yet to be found, Syed Waquar Raza from the river traffic police told AFP.

INDIA-MAGICIAN
In this photo taken on June 16, 2019 Indian stuntman Chanchal Lahiri, known by his stage name "Jadugar Mandrake", is lowered into the Ganges river, while tied up with steel chains and ropes, in Kolkata.  Str / AFP/Getty Images

 "We fear he drowned in the river," he said.

 Lahiri told AFP beforehand that he had successfully pulled off a similar stunt 21 years ago at the same venue in the eastern city.

"I was inside a bullet proof glass box tied with chain and locks and dropped down from Howrah bridge. Then I came out within 29 seconds."

He admitted it would be tough to free himself this time. "If I can open it up then it will be magic, but if I can't it will be tragic," he said.

Jayanta Shaw, a photographer with a local newspaper, witnessed Lahiri attempting the trick. He told the BBC that he spoke to him before the magician started his act.

"I asked him why he risked his life for magic," Shaw said. "He smiled and said, 'If I do it right, it's magic. If I make a mistake, it becomes tragic.'"

The magician told him that he wanted "to revive interest in magic."

When Lahiri tried another stunt at the river in 2013, he was assaulted by onlookers who saw him escape from a locked cage via a door that was clearly visible.

He was beaten and punched and his long flowing golden-brown wig was pulled off by the crowd.

Almost a decade earlier, he declared he would walk on the river waters but had to beat a hasty retreat when the act went wrong.

Harry Houdini was a Hungarian-born American stuntman who became a sensation in the early 20th century with daredevil feats including escaping from a crate lowered into the East River in New York in 1912.