A look at the Indian toy industry as the National Toy Fair is set to begin next month

Will teddy bears and toy guns give way to desi play things as a new line of thinking takes over the world of toys? The industry is set for change as the first ever National Toy Fair begins next month

Updated - January 29, 2021 09:49 am IST

Published - January 27, 2021 11:09 am IST - Kochi

Paramapadam, aadu puli aatam , solah seedi , ashta chemma , pallankuzhi ....do these sound familiar? These are all names of traditional games that Chennai-based Vinita Sidhartha began to resurrect 18 years ago, through her ‘concept toys’ venture Kreeda.

As she continues to bring out toys based on indigenous cultural and value systems, Vinita says the response has changed from doubt to “wow”. She champions learning through play and points out that aadu puli aatam is all about strategising and critical thinking, while pallanguzhi teaches counting and distribution.

National Toy Fair

This emphasis on tradition seems to be the foundation for Toycathon 2021, a Government initiative to create innovative toys and game concepts. Open to students, toy creators, and start-ups, the push to go local is strong. There is also the first National Toy Fair, a four-day event set to begin on February 27. To be held virtually, it will bring international and national players under one umbrella and showcase an industry that has so far been in the shadows, but has the potential to become one of the biggest money earners for the country.

Calling this “a very big opportunity,” Sharad Kapoor, general secretary of the Toy Association of India, says, “It is a ray of hope for an industry that employs two and half million workers, of which 50% are women.” Currently the retail value of the Indian toy market is approximately ₹16,000 crore, of which 75% are imports from China. “The retail value of our domestic production is only about ₹6,000 crore and it is primarily from manufacturing,” says Kapoor explaining that 75% comes from micro industries, 22% from MSMEs and only 3% from large units.

The space for big change began when the Government roped in affiliated ministries and State Governments to give a fillip to the industry and also introduced the BIS certification for safety. “This certification has been made mandatory from January 1, 2021, and anything that does not meet the standards will not get clearance,” says Kapoor adding that the move has triggered a reaction among manufacturers to invest in better and bigger machines.

Further, a number of State Governments have allocated dedicated spaces for toy cities and parks. The 100-acre facility along the Yamuna Expressway near Delhi has already seen 115 factories shifting to the premises; Koppal in Karnataka is to turn into a toy hub and Gujarat is planning a plug and lay industrial estate for toy manufacturers, besides launching the country’s only Toy Museum.

“If we, as an industry improve then there’s a big future for us,” says Kapoor.

Red rocking horse.

Red rocking horse.

Educational Vs Recreational toys

However, Simon Jacob, who set up Toiing along with Kartik Talwar in 2013, is cautiously optimistic. When they began to create toys that made learning play, there was dearth of Indian brands. “The Indian toy market is largely disorganised and comprises wholesalers, importers and manufacturers. It is very price sensitive.” So many possibilities have opened up for toy makers that “we are trying to make sense of what is possible,” he says. Toiing’s educational toys like Memory Toy and Rock Art are developed by a team that includes parents, teachers and psychologists. Anger Slayer uniquely helps kids get rid of their anger in a healthy way.

Dinesh Advani of PlayShifu points out that educational toys are the biggest and fastest growing segment in the industry. As a young father in 2015, he, along with Vivek Goyal, decided that screen time should be productive for kids. As tech enthusiasts, they began to look for learning solutions and “explored the possibilities of Augmented Reality. We found that we could retain the tactile experience, and add a rich layer of digital interactivity to create unique gaming experiences and help children through the stages of cognitive, creative, and linguistic development.” And thus PlayShifu was born in 2017. Orboot Earth, an Augmented Reality globe encourages kids to explore all its secrets, from cuisines and culture to inventions and fantastic facts. “Children can scan our globe and bring to life all the wonders of the world, in 3D.”

Hitherto, Indian toys have faced their biggest challenge from cheap and attractive electronic Chinese toys. “China used to provide us with chips. But now the IITs are getting involved with special courses in toy designing, and electronics to work with the industry,” says Kapoor whose Delhi-based company Kreative Kids International makes toys based on popular cartoon and storybook characters. He also refers to change in the Ride On segment, where battery-operated cars were earlier imported from China. “Not any longer,” he says.

As the excitement mounts and a push for a desi flavour to games and toys increases, will toy guns and teddy bears be replaced by educational tech-enabled toys that keep us rooted to the Indian ethos? We’ll know soon enough.

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