Police launch suicide inquiry into death of Indian 'Houdini'

KOLKATA — Indian police said Tuesday they were investigating whether a stunt artist deliberately drowned himself while performing a Houdini-inspired escape act in a Kolkata river.

Chanchal Lahiri died on Sunday in front of horrified onlookers who watched as the chained magician was lowered into the river but never reappeared.

The body of the so-called "Jadugar Mandrake" (Wizard Mandrake) was only recovered on Monday, still shackled, from the Hooghly river, a tributary of the Ganges river.

Kolkata police said they had started an "abetment to suicide" investigation against Lahiri's company.

"A negligence case has been initiated against Chanchal Lahiri's company, Magic Belt India," Syed Waquar Raza, deputy commissioner of Kolkota's port police, told AFP.

"The investigation is also under section 306 of the penal code  abetment to suicide."

Lahiri had not received permission to perform in the water, he added.

"Lahiri never mentioned in his authorization letter that he was going to jump into the river," said the officer.

"We wonder why he was in such a rush to perform the stunt. It's a mystery to us."

River traffic police were absent when he began his act an hour earlier than he had told authorities, Raza added.

Death in chains 

Most of the conditions set out in the authorization letter were also ignored, Raza added.

With chains around his arms and legs, Lahiri was lowered by a winch from a boat into the river in his yellow and red costume and orange wig.

But the 40-year-old failed to re-emerge, to the horror of scores of onlookers including his family and support team.

Kolkata's mayor, Debashis Kumar, was invited by Lahiri to see the stunt.

"When he plunged into the river, I was told that he would resurface within 10 minutes. But it did not happen," Kumar told AFP.

"I had no idea that I would be a witness to such a drama."

Magic Belt India is owned by Lahiri's family, including his wife and children.

Uma Lahiri, the stuntman's mother, did not comment on the death but said: "When he was young, he always wanted to perform magic. Swimming with tied hands and feet in the village pond was one of his first stunts.

"As a teenager, he would also cycle and drive blindfolded," added the woman, now in her 70s.

Indian magician P.C. Sorcar Junior said he believed the stunt was badly planned.

"I am sad to hear the news," said Sorcar, the son of one of India's most renowned magicians.

"I think there were shortcomings in the preparations for the show that cost him his life. He needed a little more practice for such a stunt."

Inspired by the late American magician Harry Houdini, Lahiri said he had pulled off a similar escapade 21 years ago at the same venue.

"I was inside a bulletproof glass box tied with chains and locks and dropped down from Howrah bridge. Then I came out within 29 seconds," he said.

Lahiri admitted it would be tougher this time. "If I can open it up then it will be magic, but if I can't it will be tragic," he said.

However in 2013, he was reportedly beaten up after onlookers saw him escape from a locked cage in the river through a trapdoor.

 Agence France-Presse

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