By: Fuad Omar, IndiaFM
Friday, July 28, 2006
In an unprecedented move, major distributors including Spin Master Toys UK and Funskool in India, are backing Bollywood-themed collectable 12 inch dolls, which have just gone on sale. This means Indian cinema's brightest stars will be available in miniature toy form for fans of Bollywood (and toy collectors) to a completely global market. The movement which took Indian cinema into mainstream multiplexes and to a wider audience has just been pushed even further with this innovative step which makes available to everyone a slice of Bollywood in their own home.
Shameen Jivraj is quite simply one of the most beautiful people I have ever met. Her radiance emits a warmth that spreads across whichever room she enters and leaves it smiling. She is not an actress or model but a pioneer and woman with a dream. A dream she realised this year when bringing to the world her Bollywood Legends range of collectable dolls, which are the first of their kind in toy history. Taking four Indian cinema superstars and immortalising them as collectable toys, Shameen's dedication to breathing life into her vision of bringing Bollywood into people's homes through offering them an alternative to the dolls currently available, is nothing short of revolutionary.
"It's been a long and emotional journey which involved me taking an idea, developing a concept and investing all I had into it to make it see the light of day, " she says looking at me recollecting a rollercoaster of a ride that will culminate in a product that's destined to change the toy market forever.
"When I saw what Bollywood and its stars meant to people and how crazy they were about them, I thought why they weren't given the opportunity to own something that would essentially allow them to take that magic back into their homes."
Shameen has a wealth of experience in the toy industry and found herself seeing Bollywood as an outsider, not being an Indian film buff and was intrigued by the passion with which people perceive their favourite actors and actresses, creating demi-gods of celluloid with whom they begin mentally personal relationships that are attributed to getting them through each day. The craze has swept the world in recent years with the popularity of Bollywood films even out-grossing Hollywood blockbusters. The latest example is Rakesh Roshan's Krrish which, as India's first superhero film has been touted by many as being more entertaining than the new Superman film and even made more money than it in some territories. Tapping into the close relationship and fascination Bollywood fans have for their favourite stars, Shameen hopes to cater to a market that has previously been ignored.
"I began developing the idea 4 years ago, and, with the help of Chris Taylor, Director of Origin Products, a well known international Toy Development Company, took the concept through viability phase. Once feasibility was established, Bollywood Legends required significant funds to secure Actor licenses and develop high quality product to bring to market. I asked Karim Mawji, a successful entrepreneur and childhood contact, if he would be interested in helping me. It was a big gamble for them, but I was delighted when he and his Company, Montague Goldsmith, agreed to fund and support the business."
"More recently, the project required further help on the marketing and distribution strategy. I took it to Alan Munn and Andrew Wood of the Macaws Partnership, two people with invaluable experience and credibility within the world of toys. On reviewing the idea they were sold, despite the fact that it was perceived as a niche opportunity by many. They came on board as Consultants and mentors, bringing additional credibility and strength to the project and helped me take it through what was yet another critical stage for the project."
"I told her there were too many challenges in terms of the product but when I saw the passion and the dedication that she had put in and how much of her life she had put into it, something inside me said she deserves to succeed," says Alan Munn, a distinguished looking gentleman whose face reflects experience and eyes mirror delight at the many years he has given his work, and who is extremely excited when Shameen speaks, his look divided between her narration and my absorbance of her every word as though the biggest secret in the world is being revealed.
"The make-or-break stage of getting the actors to agree to have their likeness reproduced was the most difficult part," says Shameen with a look of longing and nervousness, taking me on the journey she herself was on with her own deep penetrating eyes. "When I got on the plane to go to India 3 years ago, I realised everything could end with this trip, but I was determined to plough on."
I ask who the first star she met with regards to the dolls and her face lights up. "It was Hrithik on the sets of Koi Mil Gaya. I was outside his trailer waiting to be invited in and it hit me: Hrithik is inside this trailer. I was excited and nervous but it started dawning on me that he is a normal person like the rest of us. And I think that's the image everyone has of these people - that they're larger than life. When I met him I was so touched by his gestures and how humble he is. I got very nervous and at one point I just stopped and put my head in my hands and said 'I'm just so overwhelmed to be here and I am so nervous'. Hrithik said 'now please don't get nervous or I'll get nervous' and we burst out laughing. I felt here is a human being talking to me and he said 'I feel so honoured you've come to me with this idea' and I was blown away. It was a great moment."
"He told me the story of how he had met some kids in Dallas who had taken an existing doll and dressed it up like Hrithik and asked him to autograph it and he said 'when they did that I was so touched and now here you are saying you're actually going to make a doll of me' and it was amazing."
When Shameen presents the collectable dolls to me, the air is buzzing with lit firecrackers of excitement. As she slowly takes them out of a brown sturdy box and unveils each one, my heartbeat races and I'm taken back to my childhood days evoking feelings of wonder, surprise and joy. When all four tall boxes and their contents sit before me surrounding my field of vision with Alan Munn on my left side and Shameen on my right, the elation is overwhelming.
Shameen talks about each doll and begins describing how difficult it was to instil individual characteristics of each actor into their toy version but the air around my head has disappeared into a vacuum and her voice is drowned out by the voices in my head detailing the meticulously crafted characteristics of these four actors that make them so deserving a replica. Priyanka's deep gaze reminds you of every close up shot she's been in and her mouth is a perfect recreation of her now trademark sultry lips and autonomous pout. Priyanka's mouth is probably her most recognisable feature and getting this wrong would mean the difference between a replica and cheap copy. Thankfully the replica serves her well.
Hrithik's piercing eyes have the same effect they have in reality: holding you in their grip, intensely focussing on you in a way that hypnotises you and I immediately voice my thoughts out aloud telling Shameen how remarkable it is she managed to replicate the sharpness of his eyes. She smiles for a moment before continuing her story about the dolls which I am now oblivious too as I study each figure and look for more 'inside' touches that make them so unique. Hrithik's classic jawline is completely in place and as Alan distracts my view by slightly turning the box of his doll my eyes widen with surprise as his side profile has been faithfully recreated making me gasp with joy. If Action Man and Ken have anything to be afraid of, it is the Hrithik Roshan doll. Perfect in every way, I can imagine children talking to this doll and getting him to dance or making him fight because the look reflects the man and the superstar. It is while examining this doll I realise the effect these dolls will have on the world.
My eyes sweep across to India's most charismatic star's doll and I see a miniature Shah Rukh looking up at me. He is as I last remember seeing him: arching eyebrows, dude-like focus and a smirk that says 'Hi-ii' in the way only Shah Rukh can. His face is a perfect shadow of the enigmatic star's image and the figure has the look and feel of Shah Rukh Khan. You half expect him to break into a song, say a few romantic lines, jump into the air or perform at your own mini live show given the likeness. It literally feels you have your own Shah Rukh Khan in front of you to keep and use to assay out your own favourite roles from his films or ones you hoped he would have taken on.
Kajol's doll is immortalised in a dress that is reminiscent of the most recognisable one in the 90s. Complete with a flowing green Indian outfit inspired by Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (the longest running Indian film of all time), Kajol's doll beams up at you in its own inimitable style. Her acting is such that it leaves an impact on you and her diversity in roles all come together as you look at this doll imagining and remembering the dreamy Simran or the loud and crazy Anjali from Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham or the best friend who grew up in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. These replicas encapsulate feelings you felt when you first saw these films and give you the ultimate memento to take home and keep or play with. Kajol's doll has particular character in that she is such a recognisable and boisterous screen persona. She's larger than life and everyone's favourite, miniaturising her and giving her a portable feel seems like bottling the magic she creates on screen.
By now Shameen has begun talking about the packaging and I start to return to our conversation, still unable to turn my eyes away from these fabulous collectable dolls. The packaging is a burst of what each doll represents and shows why each one is deserved to be included in the Bollywood Legends range. With various photos of the actor next to their doll and their name underneath complete with signature, the feel is that you're buying more than a doll, a superstar even. Taking a slice of Bollywood and manufacturing it is no easy task but when done properly it is a joy to see the final product. The back of the packaging has a larger image of the star and some interesting facts about them which tell about what makes them happy, sad and what their favourite toys were, adding a unique side to the dolls that make them even more special and relegated to the 'one-to-use, one-to-keep' category.
Bollywood Legends is more than a toy phenomenon, for many it's a dream come true, including Shameen. Her journey from vision to concept creation to realising this vision has come full circle and this seems like just the beginning. She has created the perfect way to take Bollywood home and made a cult product that will last for generations to come. Here's hoping we get a limited collectable doll of Shameen herself one day, because no Bollywood Legends collection would be complete without an immortalised version of its creator with her own trademark characteristics that have made her dream come true: passion, radiance and perseverance.
The collectable dolls of Shah Rukh Khan, Hrithik Roshan, Kajol and Priyanka Chopra are available now at Toys R Us, Harrods, Argos and other major retailers priced £25 each.