Meerut: In the congested bylanes of Lakhipura, located within the deep recesses of old Meerut, 45-year-old Noor Saifi lends 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 in the bygone era are placed across one corner of the small soot-filled room, waiting to be rebuffed and eventually turned into shining armour. They will be supplied as "medieval armoury" to European, Asian, and American markets. 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', viewed across the globe. Several pieces are used as ceremonial armour in foreign lands. 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 armoury industry to the rest of the world. "Meerut has cheap labour and expert ironsmiths. There is no dearth of work here. Our workload has only increased over the years," Saifi says. He himself is a small exporter. Just 10 km away from Lakhipura lies another facility at the Parikshitgarh Road. Here, men are found forging beautifully engraved swords in foundries while the women are seen painting exquisite dagger handles in gold as well as 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. Even youngsters can spot an anomaly while comparing products with their original drawings. Authenticity is our hallmark here," he says.
In Dehradun, which is one of the biggest players in the period armoury market in the country, Windlass Steelcrafts has bagged a prestigious order to make replica mementoes of the British Royal Armouries. Owner Sudhir Windlass, who has just returned from the UK, has entered into an agreement with the Tower of London authorities in this regard.
"These are good times as the industry is growing at a rate of almost 25% annually," Windlass reveals. "We hold pride in supplying ceremonial swords to the armies of close to 25 countries around the globe," he adds.
The industry came under the limelight in the year 2000, when Russell Crowe's 'Gladiator' used made-in-India armour. A few years later, similar weaponry was used in the famous '300' starring Gerard Butler and period dramas such as 'Spartacus: Blood & Sand', 'Rome', and the 'Game of Thrones'. "Makers of Hollywood films or period dramas bought our props 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. That is what is driving the industry now. People have become collectors of the weapons that they saw on screen," says Windlass.
Mohd Alaudin, director of the Meerut-based Daniyal Steelcraft, added, "Europeans are also very 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 the advancement 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 online war games. This is fuelling demand for mementoes of such games sought after by the 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' and 'Lord Of The Rings', to make miniature figurines. Of late, the spillover of this western influence can be felt in Bollywood as well. 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 all began with 'Padmavat' in 2018, in which props from Meerut were used. More orders came for 'Tanhaji' and 'Panipat' besides 'Prithviraj Chaudhan' and 'Brahmastra'. As of now, the business is small, only generating around Rs 3-4 crore annually. However, it shows great promise in the future. However, authenticity is an issue here as historians and researchers are not involved in designing a costume for a particular battle. I am sure that the audience noticed Prithviraj Chauhan fighting in Mughal armour," he added.