Make way Barbie and Ken, here come Lowgee in ethnic wear and purple hair and Mamaibodo, the neighbourhood’s strict Bodo uncle. Dokhona-clad Lowgee and UN aka Upendra Nath Brahma in a gamcha are both toys created at Zankla Studio in Assam. . The plastic-free cloth toys in traditional attire tell the story of the Bodo community of Assam. After all, the dokhona is a traditional attire of Bodo women and the gamcha is a handmade towel woven specifically men in Assam.
Many other characters like Lowgee and UN are catching people’s attention at craft bazaars and trade fairs across India. 32-year-old Kirat Brahma, a National Institute of Design (NID) graduate, and founder of Zankla Studio at Rangapani in Baksa district, Assam is pleased to see the curiosity of peop; he says it is because,“My toys dress differently.” Zankla’s other heritage soft toys that are popular are Ada Lowdoom, a Bodo traveller, Bodo Jwhwlao, a traditional Bodo fighter, Gowdang Rani, a Bodo princess and so on.
Curiosity also drives you to visit their social media accounts to see what they have to offer. The first thing that catches your attention is the colourful attire of each toy; they are not just any colourful cloth picked from a tailor, they are traditional Bodo attire worn by the men and women of the community everyday. By using locally sourced materials and collaborating closely with weavers and artisans, Zankla Studio aims to provide sustainable livelihoods while preserving and celebrating the rich cultural heritage of the region.
Founder Kirat however credits his star tailors/craftsmen for capturing eyeballs. He says “The moment I presented the idea to my first craftsmen Raja and Rani., they made a prototype that didn’t require any further work in terms of choice of material, size etc.” He adds with a laugh, “By the way, Raja and Rani are not a couple; they have their respective partners. They are my star craftsmen. We are now a team of 12 people that comprises of Rani Baro, Umakanta Brahma, Sharma Baro, Rini Basumatary, Daimushree Gayary, Hanjita Brahma, Mayna Brahna and Nijwin Daimary and couple of other free lancers. ”
How did Zankla Studio take shape? Kirat recalls, “To be honest, it was my ignorance about my community that made me shift my direction of work from an animation film maker to designing toys and establish Zankla Studio. After completing my 12th from Novodaya institutions, I joined the NID, Ahmedabad because I wanted to work in contemporary art but stay connected to crafts. As a kid, I was good at sketching so I was encouraged to keep that as a hobby. I learnt the art by observing others’ works. After graduating from NID, a few friends started an animation art studio which didn’t do very well. We wound up the studio during COVID and in 2021, I returned to Rangapani with the idea of making an animation film on the Bodo community. This is when I realised that I didn’t know enough to even begin writing a script,”
He told his mother about how he should first learn about his people and tell a real toy story, “My mother who has always been a homemaker, weaves in her free time. She picked up some cloth from the weaving, made a toy and asked ‘something like this’? That was an eye-opener. She gave me an idea that had never occurred to me. She told me that all the women in the village weave, so there is a lot of extra cloth that lies around. Everyone is a craftsperson here, so we are making the best use of the talent we have to tell our story. By the people, for the people it is, I thought and went to Raja and Rani, the neighbourhood tailors.”
Most the craftsmen we have are involved in designing the traditional attires. The toys are made of cotton fabric witrh traditional patterns that are woven at home, they are all made used dyed yarn and are child safe. As a small scale production unit we only use materials that are woven by the women at home.
There has been no looking back for the team since then. Kirat says they want to make modern toys with a traditional style. “In Japanese and Tibetan culture, making traditional toys is common. That concept is lacking here. With the toys we make at Zankla, we want to redefine the idea of a ‘hero’. A warrior, a farmer, a teacher, a fisherman, these are everyday warriors. I am not saying superheroes are a bad idea, but I want children to learn on their own about their work, culture, and community through these toys; a play-way sort of learning. On seeing our toys, children would ask questions like ‘Why are they dressed like this’, ‘Who is this character etc’. Most of our heritage soft toys are inspired by historical, mythical, and folklore characters.”
Zankla studio toys are priced from ₹200 to ₹2500. The toys priced above ₹ 1000 come with the option of a change of dresses and shoes. They also have functional toys like miniature birds and butterflies made from colourful Bodo weaves.
- Zankla Studio from Rangapani in the Baksa district of Assam
- Baksa is a district under Bodoland Territorial Council, in Assam.
- One of the main tourist attractions of this place is the Manas National Park