The Islamabad run of The Fantasists, Pakistan’s first-ever illusions and mind-control show, opened at the Aiwan-e-Quaid.

Directed by Usama Qazi, the show starred Afzaal Afridi and Munawar Khan.

The 90-minute show was divided into two segments starting with Afzaal Afridi’s mind reading and street magic. Awarded the International Magicians Society’s prestigious Merlin Award for ‘The Best Magician of the Year 2011’, he is currently the only magician in Pakistan to hold the title. Munawar Khan, the illusionist, followed.

Mr Afridi read the minds of audience members, guessing names of significant others and words selected arbitrarily from books and even moving things while tied up.

He borrowed money from a member of the audience, and returned a multiple of the same in an orange fruit he sliced in front of them.

Beyond the guessing games, he also performed what looked to be serious magic as he had an audience member levitate and then tested the bond between a husband and wife.

The trick entailed touching the husband’s face or hand while his wife had her eyes closed and thought that she would be touched.

Mr Afridi drew much applause as she successfully identified each spot he had touched her husband.

The last trick, however, was amongst the most amusing, as a young boy, Zedaan, came up on stage to unlock a box that had been locked before the act began and then read aloud a sheet of paper that was in the box. The list stated the names of the volunteers for each trick and what Mr Afridi guessed for them, althoguh Zedaan noted as he left that “you spelled my name wrong!”

The illusionist Mr Khan continued the performance by making his props come alive from the moment of his dramatic entrance. From making cards and papers fly to sawing people in half, Mr Khan performed many of the old favourites of magic shows abroad.

Omar Jahangir said: “For a first it was a decent show, entertaining. The mentalist did a better job and was convincing at a few instances. The illusionist, however, needs some more refinement. The card tricks had all the elements along with the Houdini trick. However, he wasn’t that good with the blades.”

Sadia Hyat Rathore said: “Both the magicians were a treat to watch! Overall the show was entertaining witty and wonderful. We enjoyed it. I highly recommend Islamabad to go and watch with friends and family. Kazim and Omar did an ace job!”

The show began, somewhat oddly, with a short dance performance to set the tone, and continued in a lighter vein with music and humour. The dance contributed in no substantial way to the mysticism or wizardry of the evening but did not lose the interest of the audience.

A first of its kind in the city at a time when magicians are winning global talent shows, The Fantasists is unique to Pakistan. It is also unusual that local magicians of international calibre should have the opportunity to showcase their talents in Pakistan.

“I loved it and I think it is creating another market for a talent which had been left unexplored for quite some time,” Alamdar Khan said.

Originally published in Dawn, February 3rd, 2019