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Sunday, December 05, 2021

Skin in the Game

Delhi will host the second cosplay championship this weekend. As the concept gains popularity, this year’s finalists talk about what it takes to be a cosplayer.

Written by Dipti Nagpaul | New Delhi |
Updated: February 24, 2018 9:13:36 am
Sameer Bundela, comic con, comic con india, delhi art and culture, delhi comic con, cosplayer, cosplay, indian express, costumes Sameer Bundela as Chewbacca

In 2011, Sameer Bundela was studying animation in Delhi when he heard that India would now have its own Comic Con and the first edition was to be held in the Capital. He had been following the major international Comic Cons and was aware that cosplay is an integral part of the convention. So he enrolled as a volunteer with the organisers and, doubling as a cosplayer, arrived at the event as Rorschach from Watchmen, in a trench coat, hat and a stocking on his face.

“I was the only cosplayer there. It felt odd but I was excited by all the attention that such a basic costume got me until other cosplayers joined the event later that evening,” recounts Bundela.

Sameer Bundela, comic con, comic con india, delhi art and culture, delhi comic con, cosplayer, cosplay, indian express, costumes Akshay Churi, the other Mumbai-based finalist

Today, Comic Con India is hosting the second edition of Indian Championship of Cosplay in Delhi’s DLF Place, Saket. Bundela, who has since moved to Mumbai, bagged the top prize at the all-India championship of the first edition. This year, he is one of the ten finalists, after winning the cosplay championship at the Delhi Comic Con

He will be competing against cosplayers from Pune, Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Delhi. As Malavestros from Court of the Dead, he is up against Sivanesan V Kumar’s Artanis from Starcraft, Pracheta Bannerjee’s Death Prophet from Dota, Jeet Molankar’s Reinhardt from Overwatch, among others.

Sameer Bundela, comic con, comic con india, delhi art and culture, delhi comic con, cosplayer, cosplay, indian express, costumes Bundela as Skywrath

In the eight years since Comic Con made its India debut, 28-year-old Bundela has progressed from an amateur to a becoming a full-time, professional cosplayer. His costumes have evolved too — last year he dressed as Skywrath Mage from the game Dota, in a costume that included a mask, armour and wings that stretched out 12 feet. The costume had been made from scratch by Bundela.

In India, where Comic Con is beginning to pick up and hobby stores stock only basic craft items, what does it take to be a professional cosplayer? Bundela feels it isn’t easy. “For example, worbla, a material used exclusively for the purpose of cosplaying, is not available in India. It’s very useful because it can be heated to mould into any shape. We have to order it online,” he explains. Apart from worbla, a championship-level cosplayer would typically use a variety of materials such as foam, cloth, silicon and clay, and employ equipments such as heat gun, glue gun and rotary tool, in order to design the costume to look authentic. “Most of us don’t know how to make the costumes or use these materials when we begin, but we teach ourselves through the internet and YouTube videos.”

These aspects make cosplaying an expensive and time-consuming hobby. An advanced costume will cost upwards of
Rs 15,000 and take a seasoned cosplayer at least 60-70 hours of work, says Bundela. Akshay Churi seconds this. Also a finalist based in Mumbai, the 25-year-old has little time for a social life ahead of the championship. He considers cosplaying a hobby that goes alongside his full-time job as an animator. “My day job leaves me with very little free time to work on my hobby, so I am currently scampering to finish the Iron Man costume for the finals,” he says.

However, what helps is that the small community of cosplayers is very tight-knit and encouraging, coming to the aid of each other when they need help. “Each cosplayer has a specialisation. For example, Surya Sreenivasan is a cosplayer who is great with making swords out of wood and he also has the tools for it. So when I need one, I either use his help or guidance,” says Bundela. Cosplaying, he adds, allows him to work with a variety of materials and shape them into characters. He has also adopted as his profession, designing props and masks for television and films. “Cinema and filmmaking is my first love and I am using cosplaying, an art I am passionate about, to make my way into the industry,” admits Bundela.

Originally from Bhopal, Bundela has rented an apartment Mumbai, where he also works out of. While he uses the bedroom space for personal use, the kitchen and living room have been converted into a workshop. To make as much space as possible to work on bigger or multiple props, his refrigerator sits on the kitchen counter-top and the few utensils he owns are kept inside the refrigerator.

While Bundela loves to work on complex costumes, they aren’t the ones that always elicit the most response. Recounting the time in 2016, when he dressed up as Chewbacca, a popular character from the Star Wars series, he says, “I made the costume not knowing that the film’s principal character and Chewbacca’s dearest friend Han Solo will die in the next installment of the franchise. The film released a mere two weeks before the Comic Con and I attended it in character, looking glum. It was a basic costume of a furry animal but it got me a lot of response. People would walk up to me, hug and console me as if I had really lost someone dear.”

The same costume, however, is one that Bundela personally dislikes. “We have to dress up and roam the venue all day, and we sweat a lot inside our costumes. The Chewbacca costume is furry and I cannot wash or dry clean it because it might come apart. I have to spray it now if I want to wear it.”

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