“The More I Travel, The More I’m Gobsmacked By This Country”

“The More I Travel, The More I’m Gobsmacked By This Country”
Illusionist Neel Madhav combines magic with a dose of travel,

We got chatting with illusionist Neel Madhav ahead of the big release of the new season of 'You Got Magic’ on Sony BBC Earth

Roshni Subramanian
November 18 , 2020
09 Min Read

One man, seven cities and an exhilarating journey to find magical elements across India. Neel Madhav, India’s leading illusionist is back with a thousand new tricks up his sleeve in the new season of ‘You Got Magic with Neel Madhav’ on Sony BBC Earth. This time, the show will witness Neel bring to life the cultures and secrets of places like Dehradun, Kerala, Uttarakhand, Ahmedabad, Agra, Deogarh and Chandigarh. In a candid chat with us, he revealed what magic means to him and his incredible journey around the country. 

First of all, I'd like to begin by asking how you are feeling. Any jitters before the big premiere?

More than jitters I’m really looking forward to sharing the magic of India. I think it's very necessary for people to appreciate and understand the profound culture that we have. I feel people don't really see it for what it really is and India has a lot of history. The more I travel the more I'm gobsmacked by this country of ours. So, I’m thrilled about my show coming on television and actually quite humbled that I got to experience all of this.

Investment banker father and a media mother. So, how did you manage to foray into the world of illusion and mentalism?

Initially, my parents wanted me to pursue magic as a passion because they felt that there wasn’t much scope in the field. So, I was doing magic for four years as a passion and was at the THINK Conference when I first crossed paths with James Randi. He was the coolest and the first magician I had ever met. Interestingly, the first trick that I had ever performed was for James Randi and I completely screwed it up, which in retrospect was quite natural, given that he’s no less than Martin Scorcose of the world of magic. But, he was sweet enough to sit me and calm me down. He spoke to me for four hours straight and shared with me his way of doing things and most importantly his enthusiasm for the craft. Eventually, I performed for him and he told me that I was finally ready. He even called my father and told him if there’s one person who can take magic to another level in India, it’s your son.

I didn’t really have to fight with my mother. We’ve produced the show together. Her media background and my education and foundation is what we’ve used to build ‘You Got Magic’, as you see it today.

Neel Madhav sees magicians James Randi, Jason Randal and David Blaine as his role models

You also have a keen interest in neuro-linguistic programming and criminology. Can you please elaborate on that?

Neuro-linguistic programming and criminology are basically a means to understand the human being. These are techniques to understand where the human being is coming from and what his mentality is. And when I say mentality, it's not in a judgmental way. Rather, it is to understand what that person has been through.

If I’m performing for you, I'm going to be asking you questions. I'm going to be interacting with you. I'm going to ask you about your day, so as to get an idea about how you think and what led you to that mindset. So, when it is finally time to do some magic, it is recognised by you in such a way that it relieves you just a little bit of the hardships that you're going through. Because at the end of the day, magic is not about tricking you. It's about making you feel like you are magic, which is why the show is called ‘You Got Magic’. It's the culture that's got magic, it's the people that have got the magic. You know as much as we call it ‘tricks’, I like to stay away from the trickery part because I'm not here to trick you.

From New York to New Delhi to now Mumbai, you've had your fair share of globetrotting. How did you combine your love for travel and magic?

It’s a give and take relationship. Travel makes me experience magic through culture, through food, through hospitality, and in return, I showcase my art wherever I go. I went to Hong Kong for the Forbes event and the audience was so diverse. We had people coming in from  Indonesia, Thailand, China, Japan, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and even from Israel. It was the perfect spot to see how people from different places react to different things. There was something common between all of them. They all wanted to work for humanity. Each person wanted to, to include unity, and, and wanted to have a sense of interconnectedness. We have a history that we should be proud of. We need to showcase how communities can be together and how our cultures combine doing festivals. So, I thought that was very magical.

In season 4 of 'You've Got Magic', Neel Madhav embarks on a journey across seven gorgeous landscapes of India

Since your viewers are so varied and diverse, how do you cater to such an audience?

Magic is magic for everyone. An 80-year-old will react the same way as a kid and a billionaire will have the same reaction as any other regular person. Magic is anything that you're not expecting. Anything with an element of surprise. If you are going with the mindset that I want to trick that person, he's going to have his guard up. However, if you go with the mindset that I want to share my art with you, I want to give you a magical experience, they're gonna be like sure, why not? Who doesn't want a magical experience? Name one person who's gonna say no a magical experience. If you perform in a way that showcases more than just a trick, it’s going to leave an indelible impression in their mind.

Can you please tell us how the 'You got Magic' journey began?

We wanted to build the genre of magic. We wanted to make a show. So, we went around to a bunch of producers, but they were, well iffy about it because nothing like this actually existed. It took us six to seven months to figure out that we were going to produce this ourselves. We started with a pilot  and then we realised that maybe we should mix it up with something that I enjoy the most. Because at the end of the day, if I'm not enjoying what I'm doing, then what's the point of me doing all of this. So the next thing on the list was travel.  And so we mixed magic and travel and got a show ready. The more I started traveling across India, I educated myself about our culture and history. I realised that people in India who wish to go to Switzerland, the US, or Australia have absolutely no idea how great or how beautiful our own country is because we are not educated that way. As an Indian, I actually felt very proud that I got to experience all these different cultures. 

How did ‘Made In Heaven’ happen? Are there any other projects in the pipeline that we can look forward to?

Honestly, ‘Made In  Heaven’ was something I did to help out a friend. It was a powerful role, nevertheless. I've always wanted to see what it was like to be on a set. And I did. And it was interesting, amazing and quite unique. Technically, the shoot for season two was supposed to start, but then Covid happened. So, all of that has come to rest. But, no future projects in the acting world. I'm concentrating right now on ‘You’ve Got Magic’ that's coming on BBC. I'm actually very fortunate that way you know. Sony BBC Earth is a channel that is viewed by a lot of Indians. It is that crowd that wants to educate themselves and I hope I’m able to make a positive impact on them 

With mentalists like Suhani Shah and Karan Singh gaining increasing popularity, what do you think of the scene in India?

I love it. Suhani is the leading female magician of India and Karan is absolutely killing it on YouTube. It's something that they've put in enough effort and enough hard work into. So, for them to reach where they are is purely based on their efforts and quite commendable. I have nothing but admiration for them. I love watching their stuff and I'm always curious to see what they're going to do next because we are all trying to push the envelope of magic in India. And I think one person is never enough. You need more than one person to do it. Also, it's not just Suhani and Karan. We have people in the south, a bunch of youngsters under 30. So, we are like the ‘Next Gen’, the next generation of magicians who will probably be the face of Indian magic, later on. The more the merrier, I would say.


What's On Your Mind

Magic to you is: The most efficient way of doing anything

Greatest inspiration: My greatest inspiration would probably be me right now

Favourite city to perform in: It’s not the city, it’s the people

Your go-to trick: Make people forget something that’s special to them, figure out their ATM pin, make them hallucinate stuff

Next destination on your bucket list: I’m already in Goa and I’m loving it

You are currently binge watching: Nothing

You are currently reading: I’m currently reading the draft of my next book

‘You Got Magic with Neel Madhav’ premieres on November 19, 10 pm on Sony BBC Earth.

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