Free Press Journal

Cosplaying: The challenges of getting into the character


Cosplaying is gradually making inroads into Indian territory but it it needs both passion and courage to walk the road less travelled, writes Mridul Negi

Remember the thrill of dressing up as your favorite cartoon character in a fancy dress competition? The sheer joy of becoming one with the character you had always loved since childhood. Not many of us get to go through that same emotion due to responsibilities of the adult life, but Shariyori Aorin has managed to turn her nostalgia into an art form that is making fast inroads into the country. “I started cosplaying in 2011. I only started as a casual cosplayer and could have never imagined that I’d become the first prominent professional cosplayer and the only international cosplayer from India,” says Aorin. She is a familiar face for many and has managed to make a living out of the childhood nostalgia that we all share. That’s not all, she’s also making heads turn while at it.

So what’s that

Cosplaying is turning out to be the latest fad among youth worldwide which is not only fun but is also a viable career path. The art form that has its roots in the amalgamation of the Japanese and American pop culture has now started growing in India. Cosplay is an art form where the artistes dress up as their favourite character, the responsibility of designing the costume, props, and the makeup to go with it, all lies with them. These are the exact parameters that determine the quality of an artiste’s cosplay.

Coming out of the closet

For long the nerd community or ‘otakus’ as they are called in Japan were considered creepy and weird. Reading comics, watching animated shows, and dressing up as a character was not only considered absurd habit but also a sure shot way of earning the title of a creep and the social stigma that comes with it. However, with the release of Star Wars in the USA and the rise in popularity of Manga (Japanese Comics), after Astroboy in Japan, the fandom became part of the mainstream and rapidly started gaining popularity.

As we know, it’s the age of internet and it didn’t take long for the culture to spread in other countries including our own shores. With an affluent and educated young urban population, India too quickly became a part of the fandom and before we all knew it, cosplaying became a trend. India has witnessed a rapid increase in fandom as evident by the success of various Anime and Manga conventions held in the country, where cosplaying has become the center of attraction.

Paying the bills

Like any other art form, making money in cosplaying takes creativity and persona. Cosplayers are paid by event companies based on their popularity on social media handles, the more popular you get the more money you make. Selling customised posters, calendars, costumes, and props is also a significant way of making bucks. Some cosplayers with a huge fan following have even delved into the world of gaming and are churning good money out of it. All in all, popularity plays a major role in potential earnings of a cosplayer.

Hurdles in the way

Despite abundant opportunities to make a living, cosplaying also poses challenges that are unique to India that one must put up with. The young urban population has accepted the art with open arms; however, the older and considerably conservative population still holds an adverse view. In a country where anything short of a doctor, lawyer or engineer is frowned upon, convincing your parents to let you make a career in cosplaying is no easy task.

The cases of sexual harassment with female cosplayers at conventions too have been frequent while the security provided to the artistes is abysmal. Infighting within the community, in order to create a monopoly, is also another major challenge. “In India, one of the major problems faced by me is bullying on social platforms by certain groups of cosplayers who want to turn it into a controlled environment where they have full control over everyone and push those they don’t like down,” says Aorin.

Financial exploitation of newcomers by event organisers is also a major challenge, “In our country there is no respect to regards of talent or copyrights. Pictures of cosplayers are often used by companies for promotions without their knowledge or consent. This happens to cosplayers a lot. India has a long way to go in this regard,” she adds.

Cosplayers in their favourite fictional avatars

Women’s world

Unlike other fields of work, cosplaying is strictly a women’s world as it’s hard to survive as a male cosplayer. Female cosplayers attract larger crowds in conventions compared to male cosplayers and thereby negatively affecttheir demand as well as pay and opportunities.

Other than the financial aspect, social aspect of cosplaying is also equally restrictive. As a male cosplayer, it’s impossible to buy the makeup from a shop without being judged. This is one of the few entertainment industries where the queen wields the power rather than the king.

In a short span of time cosplay has risen from an intra-community activity for fun to a viable career option in India. As the number of comics and anime conventions increases, along with the attendance at these events, cosplaying as an art will grow at a much faster rate than it ever has. “And if we add the prospects in the world of gaming to the list, the future of the art looks to be heading towards a promising future,” she says.