It is that time of the year again when a jolly old man with a flowing white beard has doting parents making a beeline for toy shops. Old-timers will tell you that until a few decades ago, this man from the North Pole had an entire industry running on his gift bag – particularly in Delhi. That was before his industry — toys — became much bigger for his bag.
“Earlier, toy sale would happen only during the three festive months around Christmas,” recalls 71-year-old Satish Sundra of Ram Chander and Sons, the country’s oldest toyshop that has been a family business since 1890. “There was nine months of production and only three months of sale, from October to December,” he says. Which is why for six months in a year, Sundra’s father wouldn’t even sit in the shop.
Those were the days when Santa and his local elves — toy manufacturers and sellers — catered to only a particular segment of society and had only a limited variety of toys to offer. But then those were also the days when not every parent could afford a toy. This is the original Toy Story. Now, the sequel.
Father Christmas is still in business in India. But he’s not the only one dictating this business of toys. Worth Rs 2,000 crore, the domestic Indian toy industry no longer depends on Christmas for survival. “Toys are now sold around the year,” says Vishnu Swarup Agrawal, president, Toys Association of India. “At present, 40 per cent of the sale happens during festivals and another 40 per cent during fairs and exhibitions. The remaining 20 per cent is round-the-year sale,” he adds.Keeping track of the booming toy industry — it’s growing at 20 per cent annually — isn’t easy, given that at least one-third of it is unorganised, says Agrawal.
But this also means that a cheaper version of practically every toy is available. That’s both good and bad, say those in the business.
The yo-yo, for example, can cost Rs 10 to Rs 700, depending on the properties it boasts of. Says Sundra: “It’s the same for Beyblades,” a series premiered by Cartoon Network in India in 2005. An instant hit with children aged 5 and above, its sales boomed along with the television series. But then in the end, Bayblades are only a more exotic version of the top — or the traditional lattu. It might cost Rs 300 a piece with all the frills attached, but it can also be available for Rs 10 in its simplified version.
“The Chinese made the most of this and nearly killed the domestic toy industry, flooding it with cheaper versions of exotic toys,” says Agrawal. During 1999-2003, India was importing nearly 1.2 million toys from China every week, at the cost of nearly 80 per cent of the domestic market. “But we’ve managed to counter that attack,” he says, though the threat still looms large when it comes to electronic toys.
“For electronic and battery-operated toys, we still rely mostly on China,” says Ravi Kharbanda of Maya Toys, Haus Khas. He, like the others, is, however, confident that given a few more years, the Indian toy industry will catch up in this segment as well.
Bag Full of Goodies
In the meantime, the Toy Story remains “incredible fantastic”. And Santa’s bag is not just bigger, it’s way more interesting. It’s not difficult to take a sneak peep into it, thanks to the Digital Spy Camera, which both boys and girls inspired by Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven and Famous Five series would love to own. Available on toyshop shelves, the camera — costing a little over Rs 1,000 — captures images on a small digital camera attached to a pair of sunglasses as the owner nonchalantly presses the remote in his pocket.
The images can be transferred to a computer. Then there is the Mobile Spy Ear — a small ‘vehicle’ that can hear conversations up to 50 feet away, even through the wall.
For glamour-conscious girls aged six and more, there is the Digi Makeover. “It’s basically a digital camera that takes the photo of the child which can be transferred to the TV or computer. The child can then do her makeup or hairstyles and eyebrows on the image,” says Anjana Grover who has bought one as a Christmas present for her nine-year-old daughter. It is priced around Rs 4,000, she says.
Tired of her eight-year-old daughter playing with her expensive lipstick, Divya Maheshwari has bought her a three-tier makeup kit.
“Makeup kits for children can cost between Rs 300 and Rs 2,000. Some also include artificial nails and eyelashes,” says Kharbanda. Playstations costing up to Rs 30,000 are also in big demand, especially for boys. But for girls, the Barbie still rules. “An entire Barbie set could cost up to Rs 70,000, even more,” says Sundra.
There is also the remote-controlled flying plane that costs about Rs 1.5 lakh. “But while this has its share of buyers, their number is limited,” says Sundra. “Overall, it’s the intellectual toys, like puzzles, brain-teasers and science kits that are a great hit with parents,” says Kharbanda.
80 Going on 18
How big the Toy Story has become can also be gauged from the fact that toys today no longer cater to children or teenagers. “There are toys that defy age and are fun for all years — from 8 to 80,” says Sundra. Most of these are social toys. The telescope, which can cost from Rs 25,000 to Rs 1 lakh, is one of them. “It’s no fun looking at the sky alone, when you can do the same with friends over snacks and drinks,” he says. Other toys that fit this category are scrabble, monopoly, carom et al — only, now they’re all in newer, swankier versions.
Toys, sums up Sundra, are all about bonding – about togetherness. Isn’t that what Christmas is also all about?