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Babu Tyagi's 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. Tyagi's 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, Babu's 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 Mumbai's 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 Mumbai's 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 Khan's Go Goa Gone after custom clearance," says Babu.