How the fan craze for Ram and Janu of '96' is inspiring merchandise on the film

The Ram and Janu dolls are selling like hot cakes, as is Trisha's famous yellow kurta - and there is a Ram-Janu terranium, too, if you fancy one!
How the fan craze for Ram and Janu of '96' is inspiring merchandise on the film
How the fan craze for Ram and Janu of '96' is inspiring merchandise on the film
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Ram and Janu from the movie 96 found a way into people’s hearts soon after the film’s release. A few fans have now made it possible for Ram and Janu to enter into people’s houses. The craze around 96 has not subsided almost after three weeks of its release. Having reached a cult status already, the film continues to enthrall many, and Ritwik Mekkayil and Pallavi M’s account is proof enough.

Have you met the Gulbondians?

Founders of Gulbondas, a fascinating four-month-old start-up from Kerala, Ritwik and Pallavi decided to introduce Ram and Janu into the world of Gulbondians as soon as they watched the movie. The two, one an IT employee and the other an architect, left behind their well-paying jobs to nurture their wacky imagination while bouncing off disapproval from family members.

But before we get into their story, who are the Gulbondians? The Gulbondians are the inhabitants from Gulbonda, a planet far, far away from earth. It so happens that when a meteor collision destroyed their planet, the Gulbondians were flung into the far corners of the galaxy and quite a few of them reached earth.

If you thought we just made all that up, you should head straight to Gulbonda’s Instagram page to know for yourself - that the world of Gulbondas is as good as real for its creators and childhood sweethearts - Ritwik and Pallavi - and was created purely out of love.

As incredulous as this quirky imaginary world may sound, the story only gets better. The Gulbondians are not for sale and can only be adopted. More importantly, these Gulbondians are handcrafted by just three people - Ritwik, Pallavi and carpenter Kannan  (who helps them part-time)— from a humble studio in Calicut.

“The world of Gulbonda was born purely out of love. We make sure to send our Gulbondians only to the homes where we know they’ll be taken care of,” says Ritwik. The very first pair of Gulbondians that was made were Pink and Choo (a possible replica of its creators) and there exists just this one pair that will never be given away. “The story is that Pink and Choo arrived first on earth and they make sure the others who follow find happy homes. So they run the adoption drives,” says Ritwik.

You might also be surprised to learn that ever since they posted the Ram and Janu dolls on Instagram, they’ve got over 200 orders for the pair so far! “We did not expect the kind of response we got. After making these dolls, we took photographs of them and designed our version of the film’s poster and sent it to the creators. It was our dedication to the team’s hard work,” shares Ritwik.

But when Varsha Bolamma, an actor who was seen playing the role of Ram’s student in the film, shared the photos on her Instagram story, the world of Gubondians was propelled into limelight. “What happened after was completely overwhelming. It was about 9.30 pm, when I was on my way back home after closing the studio. My phone wouldn’t stop buzzing from all the notifications we were getting,” he says.

Their dolls immediately went up on Amazon and Ritwik shares that Trisha herself had placed orders for 3 pairs. These dolls are sculpted out of premium quality hardwood and are then painted upon. While Ritwik paints the pieces, Pallavi does the detailing. It takes them about three days to make ten pairs.

The Janu in you

Instore, a retail store in Pondy Bazaar, Chennai, has found the perfect opportunity to influence the fashion style in the city. Their ’96 Janu costume’, a near perfect copy of Janu’s yellow kurta-blue grey stole and blue pants is selling like hotcakes, with over 300 orders placed just on Facebook. 

A member from the designing team shares that while they’ve been selling the yellow pin-tuck kurta for years, this particular combination had become the season’s biggest statement. “In fact we hope this trend will stay for a year. People are also asking for other colours. The most interesting thing is the way the dupatta is worn. A lot of them have been able to relate with it,” she says.

The most interesting scoop, however, is that Janu’s style of dressing was based entirely on director Prem Kumar’s close friend Subhashree Kaarthik Vijay who also worked as the film’s costume designer. “Prem called and told me that Janu would dress exactly like me. The version of her you see on screen is me, with the centre-straight parting and bindhi, in spite of wearing jeans, dupatta worn from behind the neck and just eye make up,” she laughs.

Subhashree referred to her photos from a couple of decades ago to recreate her style for Janu. “When I visited the sets, Trisha was immediately able to tell that I was the friend Prem was referring to just by looking at me. That felt nice,” she chuckles.

Subhashree with 96 team

While they did about 30 costume changes to shoot ‘Life of Ram’ Janu had just about 2 throughout the film. “It was quite challenging. We made sure the brands we used were available in both Singapore and India, given that she’s an NRI. From having Janu wear her watch on the right (she’s a left hander) to the change in her colours (yellow to grey) towards the end, a lot of thought was put into it,” she shares.

96 Terrarium

Dhanya Ravindran from Bengaluru has come up with her own tribute for the film, a 96 terrarium to liven up your desks or shelves. With fairylights wound around a branch, Dhanya has recreated the scene where the two share a cup of coffee in Janu’s suite. There'also a small board that reads, ‘una enga vitteno anga than iruken Janu’ (I'm right where I left you, Janu) propped in front of the cactus and the succulents.

The terrarium is available for sale on Dhanya’s Instagram page Magic Rootz. She shares that soon after Trisha shared it on her page, she got over 20 orders from Bengaluru itself. “For now the terrariums can be collected only inside Bengaluru and I make arrangements to send it through someone to Chennai. So it has been difficult to say no to over 50 enquiries that have come from other places,” she shares.

How has the team reacted to all the attention? While Trisha and other cast members have been actively sharing these posts, director Prem tells us that the response has been overwhelming. “It just shows that a lot of them have been able to connect with the characters and the story. I believe it is the simplicity of the film that has struck a chord with the audience. All of us have Ram or Janu deep inside. That’s probably everyone’s deepest secret,” he smiles.

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