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Magician who attempted Houdini-inspired stunt in Indian river is feared dead

Indian stuntman Chanchal Lahiri, known by his stage name "Jadugar Mandrake," is lowered into the Hooghly River, which is a branch of the Ganges River, on June 16, 2019, while tied up with steel chains and ropes in Kolkata, West Bengal. (AFP/Getty Images)
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Sitting on a boat on a river in West Bengal, India, magician Chanchal Lahiri had others bind him in ropes and chains and prepare to barricade him in a cage down in the water.

He turned to his fans.

“If I can open it up, then it will be magic,” Lahiri said, according to the Guardian, “but if I can’t, it will be tragic.”

But after Lahiri — also known by his stage name, Jadugar Mandrake — disappeared Sunday into the Hooghly River in Kolkata during his Houdini-inspired performance, he never reappeared, according to Agence France-Presse.

A search-and-rescue crew has been combing the waters to find him, but police told the news agency Monday he is believed to be dead.

Authorities said Lahiri had not planned for contingencies.

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It was not the first time Lahiri had performed such feats.

Leading up to Sunday’s stunt, the magician told AFP that he did almost the same stunt more than two decades ago on the Hooghly River, which is a branch of the Ganges River. “I was inside a bulletproof glass box tied with chain and locks and dropped down from Howrah Bridge. Then I came out within 29 seconds,” he told the news agency.

He tried another stunt on the Ganges about six years ago, but after spectators saw him escape from a door in the cage, they beat him, according to the news agency.

BBC News reported that Lahiri had told a local newspaper photographer he wanted do the stunt on Sunday “to revive interest in magic.”

“He used to practice in swimming pools and rivers,” Sumit Kharbanda, president of the Indian Brotherhood of Magicians, told the Guardian after Sunday’s tragic feat. “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 or just not being able to undo the locks.”

Clarification: An earlier version of this story said the stunt occurred on the Ganges River. It occurred on the Hooghly River, a branch of the Ganges River.

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