From Hobby to Profession, How Indian Women Are Embracing Cosplay

In India, cosplay is seeing a steady momentum in the industry.

Updated
Gender
6 min read
For many Indian women, cosplay is no longer a far-fetched reality.
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Comics and animation lovers have always been in our midst. But since the advent of the Marvel Comic Universe and DC Universe on our filmy screens, they have come out of the sidelines and how. Today, conventions like Comic Con haven’t just made pop culture mainstream but also opened avenues like cosplay for fans of the genre.

And Indian women have silently taken up their love for all things pop and turned it into their superhero power.

Cosplay, or dressing up as popular comic book and gaming characters, is already big in Japan and the US. In India, there is a steady momentum in the industry only now. Since the first edition of Comic Con India in 2011, India has seen an increasing number of events that allow fans to not just enjoy cosplay but become professionals in it.

“The crowd automatically connects with the character you are cosplaying and they wish to pose with you. Cosplay has art, creation, performance, dramatization and above all, artist satisfaction,” says Medha Srivastava, a concept artist, illustrator, game artist and cosplayer from Mumbai with an animation degree from Symbiosis, Pune.

Medha as the character ‘Kier’ from ‘Court of the Dead’
Medha as the character ‘Kier’ from ‘Court of the Dead’

An Unwavering Passion

Medha grew up around brothers playing video games, Mortal Kombat being her favourite. “I won awards in art throughout childhood, so games, comics, movies became an extension of my creativity,” says the cosplayer who attended her first Comic Con in 2016.  Since then Medha has won ESL One Mumbai, Dreamhack Mumbai, The International Dota Cosplay Competition and Fan Favorite 2020 at Comic Con. “My most memorable moment was to grab an international award for best technique In ‘TI9 Shanghai’ while representing India. I was the first female from India to do so.”

Tanzim. Character: G36, Girls Frontline
Tanzim. Character: G36, Girls Frontline
Photographer: Bharani Kumar 

24-year-old Tanzim Pardiwalla got into cosplay when Comic Con arrived in Mumbai but she had already got a taste for books, sci-fi movies and action as a child in a family of literature lovers. “That coupled with my martial arts background gave me a longing to be a superhero of some sort, the need to be ‘a master of disguise’,” says the desk-bound journalist from Mumbai who loves Alice from the old classic.

Navita from Delhi remembers being the only girl in gaming arcades in her childhood. “I loved playing video games, especially those with coin slots. It was rare to find a female gamer back then,” says the popular cosplayer who won the grand prize in Comic Con Delhi last year for cosplaying as ‘Crusader’ from the video game ‘Diablo’.

Navita as Crusader.
Navita as Crusader.

For 26-year-old Akanksha Solanki, it was her chilled out parents who let her explore everything along with studies that helped build her love for comics, anime, manga and video games. “I was able to enjoy the simplest joys of being a kid. In school, I had dressed up as Sita, Mother Mary and a fairy godmother. This along with my love for anime led me to dive deeper into the Japanese culture and cosplay - a combination of all things. Cosplay is a way to bring to life the characters I love,” says the Delhi based cosplayer who attended her first comic con dressed as a casual ‘Wonder Woman’. “The next few years, I went back to back as Chun li, a female gaming character from ‘Street Fighter 2’. She’s the first lady of fighting games and is a total badass. I enjoyed it so much that I decided to cosplay part-time as a professional.”

As with most things unusual, cosplaying is a difficult thing to explain to parents.

“In the beginning, my parents would ask why I was spending money on cosplay. But soon they saw how happy it made me and eventually, they became supportive,” says Navita, whose favourite character is ‘Saber Artoria Pendragon’ from the anime Fate Stay Night.

Others, like Medha, got plenty of encouragement from parents. “My family acts as my cheerleader with my mom even lending a hand with my costumes,” adds Akanksha.

Sweat and Tears All the Way

It may seem like a colourful hobby or profession but a lot of preparation goes into being a cosplayer. Most of these women are experts at a ton of skills, from cloth designing to power tool handling. A product of the YouTube generation, these cosplayers make every bit of their costumes and props themselves.

“By definition, we are not just someone who dresses up as a character but are also a seamstress, hairstylist, makeup artist, painter, builder and electrician. We work with different materials and machines –foam, fabric, metals, wood, PVC, sewing machines, heat gun, dremel, soldering iron etc. And we are constantly picking up new skills along the way. Being able to show our hard work in the form of a finished costume is the most satisfying feeling,” says Akanksha.

“Right from building armours, cutting, stitching, sanding, priming, colouring, attaching, the process is never-ending. We pour sweat, tears and sometimes literally blood into our work.”
Medha Srivastava
Akanksha Solanki as Daenerys from <i>Game of Thrones</i>.
Akanksha Solanki as Daenerys from Game of Thrones.

Balancing Work and Hobby

To Akanksha who is an entrepreneur with a degree in psychology, balancing work and cosplay is akin to reading a good book. Navita usually works on her cosplay after office or on weekends and pulls many all-nighters. “When the convention is nearing, I take a day or two off from work to complete my costume,” she says.

Tanzim interestingly has a day job writing movie reviews for Mashable. She has no make up on at work which is a huge contradiction when she becomes her cosplay alias ‘Peppertan’. “I have struggled with writing in an office and then going back to work on cosplays with my friends. It's a lot of all-nighters and last-minute jugaad. I was a rookie and didn't know how to be a cosplay influencer till I got my first gig promoting a Japanese manga with Manga Planet and Supersugoii. It was a huge step-up and I have landed many gigs especially with tech companies since. I do it contractually now.”

Big money, bigger recognition

Tanzim. Character: Soifon, Bleach.&nbsp;
Tanzim. Character: Soifon, Bleach. 
Photographer: Soulfiction Media

It may be catering to a niche crowd but cosplay has spread its wings as a well-paying job and these women are at its forefront. They work on a number of commissions - making costumes or props for others; templates of costumes to help others who want to cosplay the same character as them; photo books for people who love to collect prints of cosplayers; and finally as performers or guest judges at movie/web-series launches etc. “One can also take workshops and Youtube tutorials on the art of prop, wig or costume making,” explains Akanksha.

Medha as Cleopatra.
Medha as Cleopatra.

Cosplay Is Not Consent

Just like any other industry, women face harassment as cosplayers too. A man had literally punched Medha’s corset when she refused a click; Tanzim has been stalked, letched at and also almost manhandled at few events; Navita has found her props broken after fans snatched them without consent. “Most events are allotting security to cosplayers since there are big over-excited crowds. Some of them might not understand boundaries since we are in a patriarchal society that isn’t used to women expressing themselves artistically in this manner. People must understand that cosplay is not consent. I am happy event managers have made active efforts towards this.”

It also helps to strictly adhere to some rules.

“Always have a cosbuddy or a volunteer with you. Use your words clearly, do not let the crowd intimidate. If someone is rowdy even after that, report him.”
Akanksha Solanki

Given all the hard work, the unanimous call is that cosplay is addictive. Tanzim expounds on Aristotle’s theory on how performances give one a release that purges one of all excess emotions. “I find that to be quiet true for cosplay,” she says. There are many hobbies that turn into jobs but the thrill of becoming someone completely different is unparalleled. “Cosplay lets you explore multiple sides of yourself. It is an overwhelming feeling,” adds Navita.

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