By Trevor Terfloth, Chatham Daily News
One is the definition of fantasy, while the other deals with sobering reality.
However, two seemingly opposing professions can complement each other, says Dr. Lalit Chawla.
The local family physician, who was a magician before graduating from medical school, is the subject of a feature-length U.S. documentary currently in production.
“It helps build the connection with the patients,” Chawla said. “I started using magic in a clinical setting — and it was just by chance. It just seemed like the natural thing to do.”
Shooting for “The Magic Doctor” took place at several locations in Chatham on Saturday, including the doctor’s home, as well as his neighbourhood.
Magic wasn’t a childhood dream for Chawla. He grew up playing sports and discovered he was skilled at science.
But he learned a few tricks and it turned into a hobby — one he became deeply passionate about.
“When I was 20-21, I think I got bored of studying,” he said. “I never really used my imagination very much when I was younger … I was very logical; very good at math.”
He said by doing something creative, magic “opened up a whole new spectrum of thought.”
Although most of his family loved the idea, Chawla said his father wasn’t happy when he learned over the phone his son wanted to be an illusionist instead of a doctor.
“He absolutely flipped,” he said. “He just was horrified … he didn’t even think that he heard right.”
Chawla said his father eventually came around and was even impressed after watching a show.
He later finished his studies and now gives magic workshops to his medical colleagues.
There are many favourite tricks up his sleeve, with Chawla saying he performs his best when he’s entertained himself.
“Tricks generally can be divided into big-stage versus small-stage,” he said. “The type of magic I really like is very visual magic.
“It absolutely fools me just as much as it does everybody else.”
There will be more filming in the area, as well as a fall trip to India, where Chawla will teach his abilities to other doctors.
The goal is to release the feature-length documentary by the end of the year, said Los Angeles-based director Steven Bernstein.
He learned of Chawla through a mutual acquaintance and thought the physician’s life would make a compelling story.
“It’s such a strange juxtaposition,” Bernstein said. “One thinks of doctors as dignified and reliable professionals. And one thinks of magicians, by their nature, as a charlatan.
“When a doctor tells you something, you presume it’s true. When a magician shows you something, you presume it’s false.”
Bernstein said if a patient heard a doctor speak of a “magic potion,” it probably wouldn’t inspire confidence.
However, he’s fascinated how these skills can put people at ease and help them open up.
His most recent film was “Decoding Annie Parker,” a drama that focuses on breast cancer, starring Helen Hunt and Samantha Morton. It’s slated for release in April.
Chawla, who was raised in Edmonton and has lived in Chatham for four years, admitted he likes his anonymity.
Despite this, he believes the film will help the greater good, adding he isn’t sure exactly what to expect.
“It is kind of a conundrum,” he said. “On the one hand, I enjoy performing and like doing magic shows and stuff like that. But I like the serenity of people not really knowing who I am. I think this might change that a little bit.”