A 40-year-old stuntman drowned during a live performance in West Bengal’s Hooghly river on Sunday. Chanchal Lahiri, who goes by the moniker ‘Jadugar (Wizard) Mandrake’, attempted an underwater escape act popularised by the legendary American stunt performer, Harry Houdini.
The stunt required him to escape from a six-foot-tall cage which is submerged underwater and chained with six locks. Lahiri was also blindfolded, and his hands and legs were tied with ropes as part of the act.
Eyewitnesses said that Lahiri, after being lowered into the river, disappeared near pillar number 28 of the Howrah Bridge.
Kolkata Police and Disaster Management Group, after receiving information about Lahiri’s disappearance, began a search for him. “We tried to spot him. But it seems the stream has swept him away. Our divers dived deep, but could not locate him,” a senior police official said.
“Because of darkness, we had to temporarily stop our search operation on Sunday evening. We will resume it tomorrow,” the official added.
Kolkata Police, however, added that Lahiri had taken permission from both the police and the Kolkata Port Trust, but said that the act had no connection with water.
“He had mentioned the act was to happen in a boat or vessel and there was no connection with water. Hence we allowed him permission. However, he vaguely mentioned an ‘extra act’ which he did not clarify. We are investigating,” police said.
An onlooker near the Howrah Bridge said that Lahiri took a ferry from the Fairly Place Ghat at around noon to perform the act. “The magic that Lahiri was to perform was very risky and complicated,” the onlooker added.
People watching the performance began to panic after Lahiri did not come out of the water even after 10 minutes. Some of the spectators called up the police.
“We have started an investigation into the matter and as to how a crane reached the Howrah Bridge,” the police said, adding that four divers were searching for Lahiri’s body, which could not be found till late evening.
Lahiri, who is a resident of southern suburbs of Kolkata, had done the same trick in 2013 successfully. Back then, some people had allegedly assaulted him after seeing his trick.
A decade ago, Lahiri had also declared that he would walk on the river but had to retreat when his act went wrong.
(With PTI inputs)