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Windlass

Meet the Windlass family, which manufactures props, costumes and official replicas from some of your favourite big-ticket shows and films, out of humble workshops in Noida and Dehradun.

brunch Updated: Oct 10, 2015 16:31 IST
Asad Ali
Jon Snow from Game of Thones.
Jon Snow from Game of Thones.(©2015 Home Box Office, Inc. All)

You know what else Jon Snow doesn’t know? That thousands of miles and fictional kingdoms away from the Wall, in the very real realm of Noida, UP, his iconic fur-lined cape and long coat is being sewed in multiples for millions of fans across the world.

Snow’s costumes, part of the Game Of Thrones line of clothing, are manufactured at a factory owned by RS Windlass & Sons, a company that specialises in period clothing and licensed replicas of costumes used in top Hollywood productions.

Local produce

“We are the only manufacturer of licensed garments for Game of Thrones in India,” says Sugandh Windlass. They’ve also produced replica costumes for Rome, Spartacus, the Harry Potter and Star Wars films, Gone with the Wind, 300 and 300 - Rise of an Empire. “Harry Potter and the Star Wars costumes did well, but the Game Of Thrones costumes have been among the most popular.”

Sugandh is the daughter of Pradeep Windlass, president of Windlass group, and one of the two brothers helming the expansive Windlass portfolio, of which the clothes manufacturing company is just a part. The Windlass group, also produces licensed replica armory (again, for top-of-the-line US production houses) among other things. Sugandh says that though the Noida factory was established in 2005, RS Windlass & Sons was created in 1991.

Rise of an empire: The Windlass brothers pose with replicas at their Dehradun factory. (Photo by Arvind Yadav/ Hindustan Times) (Hindustan Times)

So, how does a factory in north India get the Hollywood-style costumes right? “All the designs are supplied by the US companies; we replicate the design with local seamstresses,” Sugandh says.

This isn’t as easy as you think. Pradeep recalls going to George Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch to check out the costumes. “They went on and on about the superior quality of the fabric but wouldn’t even let us touch it! I told them we can’t make it without getting a feel of the cloth!” In fact, the material used for making authentic true-to-era clothing, is sourced locally as well. If it’s not custom-woven in mills, and dyed to a specific hue, it’s sourced from markets in Panipat, Sonipat and Delhi, Sugandh explains.

But before you can place an order for Snow’s cape or Cersei Lannister’s gown, Sugandh has some bad news: “We do not retail in India. All the products are for the US or Europe market.”

East to West

The Windlass family has a long history of supplying costumes to the West. Windlass Steelcrafts, established in the 1940s in Dehradun, specialises in manufacturing swords, sabres and other weaponry. “My father, Ved Prakash Windlass used to supply on-ground resources to the British, including cutlery,” says Pradeep.

All that shine: Employees of Windlass Steelcrafts making khukris, swords and replicas of insignias (below) at their factory in Dehradun. (Photo by Arvind Yadav/ Hindustan Times) (Hindustan Times)

One day the British asked Pradeep’s father if he could supply khukris to their army since they were having problems procuring them from Nepal. “My father didn’t know what a khukri even was! He found out and decided to set up a small factory, bringing in artisans from outside the city as well. That’s where it really began,” says Pradeep.

Soon Ved Prakash became the area contractor for the British Gorkha Regiment, supplying high quality khukris. In 1943, Windlass Steelcrafts was officially registered as a firm and even after Independence it kept supplying to the British Gorkhas in Singapore and Malaysia. Soon after, Windlass also started supplying khukris, jack knives and traditional Nagaland machete-like weapons called dao to the Indian regiments.

Ved Prakash though wasn’t convinced about the long-term feasibility of their business. Sudhir Windlass, the elder brother of Pradeep, and chairman of the firm, says, “I got into the business in my 20s. But though we were supplying to various people, my father didn’t see a good future in it. He would often wonder who would really buy a khukri.”

As it turns out, there were a lot of takers for it. Exporters from Delhi and Mumbai were interested in khukris and weapons as decor items abroad. “Then there are private collectors and history buffs,” says Sudhir, “There are of course governments, and the army or navy who want official swords for ceremonious purposes too.” Of course, they supply India with ceremonial weapons as well. The best all-round cadet of the Indian Military Academy gets a much-coveted sword of honour every year. It is manufactured by Windlass.

Blunt truth

These credentials don’t cut ice in India, because under the Arms Act 1959, any knife with a blade of more than six inches, is illegal to sell. “Some states like Gujarat and Rajasthan allow swords for weddings but that’s it,” says Sudhir. “If you ask me, a proper kitchen knife is much more dangerous than a sword. It isn’t easy to suddenly kill someone with a sword, but with a kitchen knife it’s still possible. That’s the irony,” says Sudhir. Which is why, says Pradeep, business in India hasn’t been good.

Until now. It was when they started making replicas of old (and famous) weaponry after 1978, that they started getting international attention from collectors. Hollywood props always attract high interest, says Pradeep. “We gave 800 swords to HBO’s Rome, the knife James Bond throws at the end in Skyfall was ours, we gave some props to The Tudors as well. Remember the sword Liam Neeson had in Batman Begins? That was ours too,” claims Pradeep.

(Photo by Arvind Yadav/ Hindustan Times) (Hindustan Times)

He’s quick to add though that their major business interest actually lies in bagging licences to makes replicas of the original props that are used on screen. “People confuse the two, which is why the distinction must be made. Props are obviously popular, but licensing is more profitable. Which is why in recent times we hardly take on projects that require us to export props only,” says Pradeep. He says that these days production houses ask for a very low number of props and use CGI to complete the whole look. “300 is the perfect example! Almost the whole thing was CGI, they hardly used any props! The same goes for most films these days.”

Licensing though makes sound business sense, and Windlass has capitalised heavily on that. From Iron Man and 300 to Gladiator and Harry Potter, the firm has procured licenses for most of the big names. Game Of Thrones merely happens to be the current favourite, and unsurprisingly, a successful one for them. “Just like for Harry Potter, for Game of Thrones too our licenses are for the clothes,” he says. Then there are the sales from Windlass on their website Collectorsheritage.com, which offers mock weapons, with blades made from high-grade latex or rubber.

There isn’t any major competition to the Windlass group, says Sudhir. The closest is China he says, but they come a distant second as their produce is typically of a low-quality, high volume type. Besides they don’t follow the exact specifications and standards of a replica sword as much as we do.”.

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