Meet the Indian Women Behind the Armor in 'Game of Thrones'
Inside the factory making official "Game of Thrones" props and merchandise, where "all the intricate handwork is done by women."
Photos by Sunaina Kumar
On a hot, sticky day, Jon Snow's big, heavy cape with fur lining is a reminder of how far north Westeros is from India. The fabric of his cape is thick—so thick in fact, that it could be used to pitch a tent on a campsite. It is made out of cotton duck, a heavy, tightly woven canvas fabric. Ned Stark's costume hangs next to Jon Snow's on a garment rack in a well-lit room—the brown leather peascod paired with a vest, a quilted wool gambeson and an inner shirt, is equally far from suitable for the Indian summer. We are in a factory in Noida, an industrial city that lies on the outer edges of Delhi, known for its cheap real estate, gritty underside, and criminal gangs.
Rashi Goil is a self-assured young woman of 23 who is a partner in her family business, RS Windlass & Sons, a company that provides props and licensed merchandise for major Hollywood productions including Game of Thrones. She sits across a wide, long table in a room that doubles as showroom and warehouse, and tells the story of how the connection with the world's biggest television show was forged. Replicas of Longclaw (Jon Snow's sword) and Ice (Ned Stark's sword) lie on the table between us. They seem as if they have been carved from real Valyrian steel, till she invites me to touch them and my fingers sink into soft latex foam. The sword is a licensed replica used for LARPing (Live Action Role Play). "You cannot tell the difference from a distance," she says with a smile.
Windlass group was established in 1943 in Dehradun, a small town in the foothills of the Himalayas, by Goil's great-grandfather, the family patriarch, Ved Prakash Windlass. He started Windlass Steelcrafts to supply khukris (a type of machete used by the Nepalese people) to the British Indian Army in the second world war. The company is now one of the largest manufacturers of swords, shields, armor, knives, and bayonets, supplying to major militaries across the world and movie and television productions.
In 1996, the family established a business to cater to the period clothing and apparel market by acquiring two American companies, the Atlanta Cutlery Corporation and Museum Replicas Ltd in Georgia. It's the job of these two corporations to source business, while the manufacturing takes place in India. For Game of Thrones, Pradeep Windlass, who handles the business in America, visited the sets in Ireland to meet with costume designer Michele Clapton and armor designer Augusto Grassi and take a close look at the show's props and costumes. The replicas created in Noida have to be as accurate as possible, using the same fabrics and materials with the same level of detailing.
Windlass has supplied set props to major productions like Batman Begins, Chronicles of Narnia, Indiana Jones, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Tudors, Skyfall, The Walking Dead, as well as armor and helmets for early seasons of Game of Thrones, and merchandising associations with films like 300, Assassin's Creed, Gone With The Wind, Kingdom of Heaven, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, The Mummy Returns, Troy, and more. But it's the work they've done with Game of Thrones that made them famous in India.
"It is after Game of Thrones that the Indian media has become curious about the work we do," says Goil. For a country that produces close to 2,000 movies a year in more than 20 different languages, association with a production hardly counts as news and the market for official merchandise barely exists. But here in India, like the rest of the world, Game of Thrones has a staggeringly large though niche following, restricted to English-speaking city audiences. A report by TorrentFreak, a publication devoted to file sharing, revealed that India ranked second in the number of torrent downloads of the series at the time of the season 6 premiere last year, contributing 9.7 percent of traffic. (Australia took the top spot in the list for illegal downloading.)
The group maintains a low profile in India, their business devoted entirely to the American and European market. "When I was growing up and used to visit the factory, I would always wonder, 'Who buys these elaborate costumes and accessories?'" says Goil. The buyers are a dedicated group of people around the world, mostly collectors, enthusiasts, and cosplayers.
"Movie merchandise and set props is a very niche business and a lot depends upon the fate of the movie. We have had good times with movies and productions that have done good like the Harry Potter series, Lord of the Rings, while at the same time we have had instances where we had invested several thousand dollars into a project but when the movie bombed at the box office we were left with a lot of unsold inventory," Pradeep Windlass, President of Atlanta Cutlery Corporation, told Broadly in an email.
Goil invites me to walk around the showroom. It is a wonderland of costumes. Capes and robes, jerkins and tabards, skirts and kilts, chemises and corsets, dresses and gowns, in fabulously opulent textiles like chenille, velvet, satin and silk, are all crammed in the period clothing rack. Most of these are for Renaissance fairs in Europe and the United States. The Hollywood merchandise section has Jedi costumes from Star Wars, a lush green gown exactly like the one worn by Vivien Leigh in Gone With the Wind, and the Harry Potter collection, their highest selling franchise—the black Gryffindor robe with an embroidered house crest, Albus Dumbledore's long grey robe that matched his beard, and a mannequin dressed in Hermione's purple Yule Ball gown in cascading silk and chiffon.
We take a tour of the workshop where nearly 150 workers are busily cutting, stitching, embroidering, and putting finishing touches to costumes. This time of the year near Halloween is frenzied, as the demand for costumes boom. A batch of green silk gowns is nearly ready to be shipped out. Goil briskly fields queries from different people. Her merchandise manager, Jaya Sayal, a young woman who is a font of information on the sourcing of fabrics, points to the leather strings on Ned Stark's costume; work that women in the factory have specialized in. "All the intricate handwork is done by women," says Sayal.
Goil says her job is less glamorous than it appears. "My friends envy me for the work I do, that I spend my day immersed in this fantasy world. But there is hard work here. I have to think of things like where in India will I get the pearl buttons I need in the exact shade I need them in?"
As she hurries off for a meeting, she confesses to missing the last season of Game of Thrones. "I haven't found time," she says with a rueful smile. "But I've recorded all of it."