Babu Tyagis warehouse in Goregaon West,Mumbai,is a three-storey building stacked with grey plastic cases and watchmen posted on every level. The door to the room on the top floor opens,and five men walk in. They begin to pull apart the grey cases to reveal seductive,shiny Brunis,Mausers,Colts,AK 47s,sniper rifles and a rocket launcher. Tyagis men pass them on until they find the perfect weapon Berretta 92,a handy revolver and load it with an 8mm bullet. The target is chosen and aim is taken. Boom. The sound is deafening and leaves everyone in the room reeling under its impact. The target,however,is intact. And the golden dummy bullet,with its green seal busted,can be spotted on the floor. The gun,having been checked,is packed away to be taken to the sets of Dabangg 2.
An old hand in supplying action equipment and designing pyrotechnics for Bollywood films,Babus key business is renting out dummy guns for film shoots. We mostly deal with action directors who provide us with a list of weapons and equipment that they require for a film, explains the 36-year-old,who also rents out swords,knives and bombs (similar to the one that was found in Mumbais Andheri West earlier this month and mistaken for a real explosive).
With a slew of action films in production across Bollywood and regional cinema,the business of dummy weapons is on a roll. The Indian film industry relies on three key suppliers Babu,his mentor Rajendra Tyagi (also operates out of Goregaon West) and Mumbais Lokhandwala-based Mehboob Ghulam. But there are other small-time dealers who stock a lesser variety and cater to films down South and TV shows.
Babu clarifies that these weapons are fake,although each piece requires a licence and can be handled off-screen only by registered members of Movies Action Dummy Effect Association. Our association has close to 700 members. Every time we send equipment out to a set,a registered member has to accompany it with a licence copy,and bring it back by the end of the day, he explains. The rule also applies to shoots outside. A staff member travelled ahead with documents to Mauritius for the shoot of Saif Ali Khans Go Goa Gone after custom clearance, says Babu.
Rifles for constables are the most commonly hired equipment,after pistols. Terrorists being the new Bollywood baddies,now snipers and AK 47s are gaining popularity. The older models,in brass and wood,are meant for period films. The rental begins at Rs 250 a day for a pistol and goes up to Rs 2,000 for heavy equipment. And each round fired costs Rs 150. Most of these men also deal with other must-haves such as cables and harnesses,apart from staging explosions with petrol or kerosene.
The use of dummies in films is recent,points out Rajendra. Use of slick weapons dates back to the 70s,before which rifles were popular for period films. The guns in Sholay were real that fired blanks, explains Rajendra,who provided guns and other action sequence paraphernelia for Ishaqzaade and Ek Tha Tiger recently. This was followed by handmade guns with an electrical circuit that would trigger a tiny chemical blast, he recounts. The globalisation in the 90s,however,changed that and the import of sophisticated dummies started.
A pistol of Italian make can be purchased for Rs 25,000,often available with official dealers. Rajendra and Babu also keep an eye on foreign crews shooting in India. For a price,the foreigners surrender the guns at governments firearms registration division. Harmless otherwise,accidents with fakes are not unheard of. Gujarati actor Feroz Irani died in 1998 when he pulled the trigger on his forehead. Legend has it that Dharmendra was lucky when he realised that a real bullet had slipped in with the dummies in his hand.
To be hauled in by cops for questioning is part of regular work for these men. Ghulam had to visit the police station with the original licence when one of his men was detained for questioning after being spotted with a machine gun. That was in 2008,soon after the 26/11 attacks, recollects Ghulam.