Ceremonial armour industry: India
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As in 2022
In the congested bylanes of Lakhipura, located within the deep recesses of old Meerut, 45-year-old Noor Saifi gives final touches to the replica of a 16th-century steel gauntlet, an unusual sight for locals in this part of the world.
Iron breastplates designed to look like those from a bygone era are placed in a corner of the small, soot-filled room, waiting to be buffed and eventually turned into shining armour. They will be supplied as medieval armour to European, Asian, and American markets as part of a business that’s suddenly seeing a “meteoric rise” with the revolution in new-age technology (aided by frenetic talk on social media), the proliferation of OTT platforms, advancements in the gaming industry and, most of all, renewed interest in period pieces, mythology and historical tales.
Many of these finely designed pieces have featured in blockbuster movies such as Russell Crowe-starrer ‘Gladiator’, Gerard Butler’s ‘300’, and Bollywood’s own ‘Brahmastra’. Several pieces are also used as ceremonial armour abroad. “But the fresh interest in our industry is something we have never seen before,” a prop maker says.
Saifi is one of the many artisans residing in the walled city who work for medieval arms manufacturers and vendors in Meerut and Dehradun. These two north Indian cities are known to supply a major chunk of weapons produced by the Rs 350-crore Indian period armour industry to the rest of the world.
“Meerut has cheap labour and expert ironsmiths. There is no dearth of work here. Our workload has increased over the years and business has been booming of late,” Saifi says.
Just 10km away from Lakhipura lies another facility on Parikshitgarh Road. Here, artisans are found forging beautifully engraved swords in foundries and painting exquisite dagger handles in gold and silver.
Gagan Agarwal, director of Deepeeka Exports, is personally taking care of quality checks at the site. “Foreigners are very particular about detail. Thanks to social media, information is available at everyone’s fingertips now. . . . Authenticity is our hallmark here,” he says.
In Dehradun, which is one of the country’s biggest hubs for period armour, Windlass Steelcrafts has bagged a prestigious order to make replica collectibles of the British Royal Armouries Museum. Owner Sudhir Windlass, who has just returned from the UK, said hehas entered into an agreement with the Tower of London authorities for this.
“These are good times as the industry is growing at almost 25% annually,” Windlass said. “We hold pride in supplying ceremonial swords to the armies of close to 25 countries around the globe. ” “Our props have been used in Hollywood films and period dramas on OTT platforms because of their cost-effectiveness and quality. This by itself did not generate a lot of business volume but the interest of the audience, particularly of the youth, was piqued. People have become collectors of the weapons that they see on screen,” Windlass added.
The industry had first come into the limelight in 2000, when Russell Crowe’s ‘Gladiator’ used made-in-India armour. A few years later, similar weaponry was used in ‘300’ starring Gerard Butler and period dramas such as ‘Spartacus: Blood & Sand’, ‘Rome’, and ‘Game of Thrones’. Mohd Alaudin, director of the Meerut-based Daniyal Steelcraft, said, “Europeans are proud of their history and relive the bygone era by enacting famous battles on their original battlegrounds. There are agencies, including local museums and history schools, that keep this interest alive. They also order authentic gear to lend a real feel to the ‘battle’. Of course, period dramas are also generating a lot of interest. ”
With advancements in technology, another sector that has given a boost to the industry is gaming. “Period films and dramas have drawn the imagination of the gaming industry like never before. These iconic shows are inspiring cinematic war games. This is fuelling demand for collectibles of such games sought after by kids and youth,” said Deepeeka Exports’ Gagan Agarwal, who recently tied up with Games Workshop, a Nottingham-based gaming company credited with creating popular PC games such as ‘Warhammer’, to make miniature figurines. Of late, the spillover of this western influence can be felt in Bollywood too. Vijay Das, a Meerut-based consultant and research analyst for period weapons, said, “Our film industry has finally realised the role of realistic weapons in the success of their projects that represent an era where shimmering swords and fearsome cavalries on the battlefields changed the course of history. It began with ‘Padmaavat’ in 2018, in which props from Meerut were used. More orders came for ‘Tanhaji’, ‘Panipat’ and ‘Brahmastra’. Authenticity is of utmost importance. And that is what sells. ”