HAVE YOU always looked at ‘Ice’—that massive Valyrian steel sword used by Ned Stark in the Game of Thrones TV series—with amazement? Or have you secretly wanted to possess ‘Mjolnir’, the enchanted hammer that grants fictional superhero Thor the ability to fly and manipulate weather? Well, they may not exist in real life, but you can take pride in the fact that these ‘weapons’—among several other items of heavy-duty medieval-era armoury and backdrop elements—are manufactured by and sourced from Indian companies. From chainmails, swords and sabres to plate armours, medieval clothing and camping tents, these companies have supplied these products and more for Hollywood films and TV shows such as The Hunger Games, Gladiator, Troy, Game of Thrones, Assassin’s Creed, The Tudors, etc.
“We would call ourselves a sourcing company for Hollywood production houses for items ranging from fabrics and trimmings to props and furniture,” says Manjot Rana, the third-generation owner of Rangarsons based in Lajpat Nagar, New Delhi. “For instance, we supplied items for a college in Chandigarh to look like the American embassy for the 2012 American political action-thriller Zero Dark Thirty. We also supplied around 30 power looms for an ‘abandoned textile factory’ set in The Hunger Games (2012),” explains Rana.
Rangarsons was founded in 1945 as a supplier of band instruments for the British Army. Gradually, the company started providing costumes for films and TV serials focusing on the Raj era such as Gandhi (1982), Jewel in the Crown (1984), The Far Pavilions (1984), A Passage to India (1984) and Lord Mountbatten: The Last Viceroy (1986).
Forty-eight-year-old Rana has worked on projects such as The Mummy Returns (2001), Kingdom of Heaven (2005), Alexander (2004), King Arthur (2004), Prince of Persia (2010), Clash of the Titans (2010), Vikings (2013) and Snow White and the Huntsman (2012). Currently, he is working on Tim Burton’s Dumbo and Otto Bathurst’s Robin Hood Origins, which is being shot in Budapest, Hungary.
Besides Rangarsons, several other such companies are operating in the country today, mostly in north Indian towns and cities like Dehradun and Meerut. None of them retail in India, exporting 100% of their products mostly to markets in the West. With the business of prop-making still considered a cottage industry, there is no formal estimate of these companies’ net worth.
Interestingly, as per industry experts, when it comes to providing period props to the West, there is practically no competition for Indian companies. The closest are possibly Chinese firms, but even “they come a distant second, as their produce is typically of low quality,” offers Saurabh Mahajan, founder, Lord of Battles, a Dehradun-based manufacturer and exporter of such products, which has in the past supplied for films such as The Hobbit series, etc.
Currently, Lord of Battles has more than 3,000 items such as chainmails, plate armours, leather armours, medieval costumes, helmets, shields, axes, medieval camping kits, horns and bone products, etc, available for export. “We have a large range of products to ensure that our buyers get almost all their demands met. We are relentlessly engaged in the process of discovering, refining and developing antique replicas. Our research associates travel down the history lane to learn intricate details of ancient weaponry. This gives us an edge over crude imitators,” says Mahajan, a former army officer, who started the company in 2005. To ensure authenticity and quality control, Mahajan and his team regularly visit their clients in the US and Europe. They also visit museums and castles to identify items that can be included in their kitty.
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Like any other sector, prop-making can be demanding, as well as rewarding. Rana began his career working on Gladiator, the 2000 British-American epic historical drama film directed by Ridley Scott. He worked closely with the film’s set decorator Crispian Sallis for large embroideries, fabrics, trimmings, chainmails, etc. “This business is a race against time. I can’t forget my first project, Gladiator, for which we had to make a consignment of chainmail curtains weighing 200 kg in less than a week. It got finished on a Friday, but the set had to be ready in Malta on Monday morning. We were told to buy two first-class tickets and fly to London with the chainmail curtain,” says Rana, adding, “There was a car waiting for us outside the airport. We were driven to Shepperton Studios and given a fat cheque. We enjoyed London for the rest of the weekend.”