On a February morning, a group of eight women were busy assembling assault rifles AK-47, one of the world's deadliest weapons in the 21st century, on the second floor at a factory in Kamrangirchar on the outskirts of Dhaka.
Moni Begum, one of the workers, was fully occupied with fitting different parts such as pipes, springs, magazine locks, triggers and gas tubes on the rifles, while others were tightening small-sized black screws into the rifle with an automated hand-held screwdriver which was buzzing continually.
On the rifles, there was a warning sticker inscribed in capital letters: DO NOT SHOOT AT ANY HUMAN OR ANIMAL.
Scared? The nearly two-feet long assault rifles are actually made of plastic. But they are flamboyant. The buttstock, heatshield and the pistol grip are a rife yellow colour while the main body and magazine are black.
This replica of the AK-47 is a very popular toy among children, especially among boys.
Everest Toy Industries Limited, one of the country's leading toy manufacturers, produces around 2,000 pieces of AK-47 rifles daily. The company is also manufacturing replicas of other assault rifles, ambulances, racing cars, buses and mobile phones.
"Approximately 60 percent of all our toys are guns. We are producing around 10 lakh pieces of guns annually," said Shahjahan Majumder, one of the owners of Everest Toy Industries Limited. The company has two factories with more than 400 workers and produces 200 types of toys for children.
Shahjahan is also the president of Bangladesh Toy Merchants Manufacturers and Importers Association, the apex body of the toy industry.
"Different companies prioritize different products. We have chosen guns," Shahjahan told the correspondent, adding, "When this product used to be imported from China, the price of an AK-47 was around Tk200. Our wholesale price for this gun is Tk80."
Everest Toy Industries Limited is not the only toy factory in this business. Almost 150 small and large factories are making toys which were completely import-dependent nearly 10 years back. Industry insiders estimate the market size of the toy industry is no less than Tk6,000 crore. Local toy manufacturing companies have already captured 80 percent of the market share.
"We are now making the products we once imported from China. These are all copied from Chinese toys, which were unknown to us two decades back," Shahjahan said, sitting at his desk surrounded by an array of toys in his wholesale shop at the Chawkbazar area.
Shahjahan told us that more than 1,500 toys are being made in the country's local factories.
On the ground floor of the company's Kamrangirchar factory, Nazmul Islam was busy taking out the mould of the lower parts of an ambulance from an injection moulding machine.
"It takes around 30 seconds to mould the lower part of an ambulance in the machine. In one hour, we can mould 110 pieces of the lower parts," Nazmul said. He has been working at the factory for the last three years.
Making a toy requires moulding many of its pieces. The Kamrangirchar factory has a total of 12 large-sized plastic injection moulding machines for different parts of the toys. If a racing car is to be made, the factory workers need to make tyres in one mould, windshield in another mould, the car's body in the other and so on.
How did Shahjahan come to the business?
Children in most cases become happy when they are given toys. However, during his childhood, Shahjahan adored making toys on his own with paper, mud and what not.
"I don't know why toys always attracted me. Always," Shahjahan said while leaning back in his chair.
After completing his secondary school certificate exam from the Cumilla Victoria College in 1977, Shahjahan came to Dhaka with hopes of becoming a businessman.
He started out as a worker at a tennis ball factory at the Shoari Ghat area in old Dhaka for a salary of Tk300. The factory used to make rubber balls and shoes.
"My only target was to learn the nitty-gritty of the business. Within three months, I learned all types of tasks in the factory. I had joined as a manager but I learned what the helper used to do, then I learned what the craftsman used to do," said Shahjahan. He added, "Then I got the hang of running the machines."
Next year, in 1978, Shahjahan made up his mind to set up a rubber ball factory of his own. But he did not have the money to invest. He went back home and sold four acres of land for Tk1,10,000 without his father's knowledge for buying capital machineries.
"But I lost the business. As a result, I sold it out in 1988. The same year, I set up a factory to venture into the plastic sector," Shahjahan informed.
This time, he started making cricket balls from plastic. Within a very short time, the plastic ball became a hit. Then, the business started to take off. Beside manufacturing, Shahjahan decided to import toys from China in 2001.
"In 2001, I went to China for the first time. I had never imagined that China is so beautiful. But I didn't let anyone know that I was going to China. I thought that since I do politics, people would look at it negatively", he said.
In 2008, the market value of the toy industry Bangladesh stood at around Tk5,500 crore. As purchasing power increased, customers showed a tendency of buying better quality toys imported from China. The local industry in Bangladesh started to grow fast from 2010, resultantly reducing imports from China.
"One of the main reasons behind the growth of the industry is the cheap labour in our country," Shahjahan said.
What is the business prospect?
Over the last decade, the domestic toy industry has seen huge growth. However, according to Shahjahan, the industry is still nascent because the local industry is still heavily dependent on China for its raw materials.
"We have to import raw materials such as plastic, electronic circuit boards, small-sized speakers, LED lights, screw springs and more for making the toys," said Shahjahan.
He added that the industry has a huge potential. Locally, these toys are being sold year-round. There is a huge scope for exporting these toys.
"When I visited China, I saw that a single company in China exported toys worth USD2 billion. And there were thousands of toy companies in China," Shahjahan informed.
Although as many as 50,000 people are working directly in this industry, Shahjahan believes that the government is not taking them seriously. Toy manufactures have since long been demanding a separate industrial zone. However, the government has not fulfilled their demand.
"Toys are a very important thing for children. If you give a child a car, he or she will break it as they are very curious. They want to see what is inside it, why the car is moving. These are educational elements", Shahjahan said. "Children take pleasure in it," he added.