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Pop-culture comes alive: The rise of cosplay community in India

Pop-culture comes alive: The rise of cosplay community in India

Pop-culture comes alive: The rise of cosplay community in India

During the first-ever Comic Con India, held during an unusually cloudy February weekend in Delhi 10 years ago, its founder Jatin Varma, was cosplaying as Jean-Luc Picard from Star Trek. He did not, however, shave his head to resemble the character. “So, I think a few people were confused about who I was,” he chuckles.

Though dressing up as characters from folklore and mythology has been a part of many Indian traditions, cosplaying (dressing up as a character from pop culture) was relatively new back then. As the founder of a festival that celebrates pop culture, Jatin was keen on making cosplay an essential part of the festival right from its first edition. So, he ensured he cosplayed with his entire team. “I thought it’d just be us. But we had 25 cosplayers that year, more than I expected,” he says, “I was happy.” All the participants in that edition got gift hampers.

At the most recent edition of Comic Con India, approximately 3,000 enthusiastic cosplayers graced the cities hosting the event. They stood a chance to win a daily cash prize of 1.15 lakh. The total prize pool was over five lakh. 

“Cosplay has become so popular that even in cities where we don’t host Comic Con events — smaller cities such as Nagpur and Lucknow — there are dedicated clubs and groups for cosplay. Some people even travel to our events from different cities,” says Jatin.

More than ‘fancy dress’

The surge of cosplay culture in India is due to various catalysts. An uptick in exposure to global pop culture, including anime, manga and Western media, thanks to online streaming, has ignited a passion for cosplay as a medium to channel fandom and immerse fans in their beloved characters. 

What sets cosplaying apart from fancy dress competitions or Halloween costume events is the level of detailing that goes into it. The craftsmanship of costume and prop-making within the Indian cosplay realm has increased tremendously since the 2013 Comic Con India. 

Medha Srivastava, a Mumbai-based cosplayer, for instance, spent about nine hours every day for several weeks designing her costume for Alexstrasza, a character from the game World of Warcraft, for the latest Indian Championship of Cosplay (conducted by Comic Con India). 

Medha Srivastava
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

“To make my portrayal stand out, I redesigned the character,” Medha says. “I sketched a new interpretation and incorporated dragon wings and legs, even though these weren’t part of the original character design. I added lights to the wings, giving them the appearance of flowing lava, and introduced a weapon with a moving gem, unlike the static version in the game.”

To achieve all this, she delved into electronics, studying it with the help of her dad, who is an electrical engineer. She installed a motor to make the gem move and added lights inside it to make it appear as though it was glowing. “When I initially shared a picture of my costume on Reddit, some people thought it was an AI-generated image. I had to post a video to prove it was a real cosplay,” she laughs.

All these efforts led her to a title win and a cash prize of ₹2 lakh. 

Cosplay, she says, is not just about wearing costumes; it involves making them, donning makeup, performing and embodying a character. 

Career options

Though cosplaying is an expression of fun and fandom, there is some serious money involved in it. While it is not a mainstream career path, many cosplayers have successfully turned their passion into a source of income and a full-time career. According to a five-year-old CNBC article, Stella Chu, a cosplayer based in the US, was earning a six-figure income, which should have increased now, considering her following on Instagram went from 300,000 to more than half a million.

“In India, it’s a bit difficult to be a full-time professional cosplayer,” says Mumbai-based cosplayer Akshay Churi. “Since the cosplay culture is still new, it’s not easy to source the materials to build a good costume.” He says the cost of a costume can range anywhere between ₹10,000 to a lakh even, “if you are going for something real fancy.”

However, things are improving, according to Sunil Choppala, who won the title of ‘Best SciFi Series’ at last year’s Comic Con in Bengaluru. “For instance, if you wanted specific materials for your work, you could often only find them in major cities like Delhi. Now, cosplayers across India have a broader knowledge and access to materials, as well as a keen sense of where to obtain what they need. The cosplay community has grown substantially, not only in terms of the number of enthusiasts, but also in terms of their collective knowledge and resourcefulness,” he says. He attributes this rise mainly to the growth of social networking.

“You needn’t solely rely on wearing costumes for an income,” says Jatin, “Instead, it’s about leveraging your skills for crafting costumes and bringing characters to life in different ways. This can include working in various sectors such as movies, TV shows, costume designing, photography and related fields.”

Medha, for instance, works with leading OTT platforms and other pop-culture-related organisations apart from competing in cosplay contests, while Sunil freelances as a cosplay photographer.

While cosplayers are now finding avenues to monetise their passion, their primary purpose is, as Akshay says, “The pleasure of getting to be your favourite character. When you wear a costume, there’s a sense of thrill within you.”

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