“I’m very nervous, it’s my first interview,” Shweta Kari tells me. I was taken aback, as both of Kari’s jobs, a teacher and a professional cosplayer, require her to perform in front of strangers.
Cosplaying is performance art in which participants or cosplayers wear self-made costumes and fashion accessories to represent a specific character from a film, TV programme, comic book, etc. as a hobby. In India though, as nascent as the space is, it’s fast becoming more than just a hobby, as cosplayers are getting hired to nerd up events. We spoke to Kari aka rel_mayer12, the 28-year-old Hyderabad resident, about the biz, her outfits, and if she gets miffed when her family calls her a ‘cartoon’.
VICE: How did you get into cosplaying?
Shweta Kari: It started after I came to Hyderabad three years ago. I made new friends, (and friends of friends), and through their Facebook accounts, saw people putting up profile pictures dressed as their favourite characters. So I thought why can’t I do it? I've always loved anime, Fairy Tail, Black Butler, Fullmetal Alchemist—so I also started doing it.
What was your first cosplay?
I went as Nana from Nana for Hyderabad Comic Con in 2015. It was very sad actually, because no one recognised me except one person, that too in the washroom. Not even other cosplayers recognised me. A year after that I started working with India’s Largest eSports company, NODWIN Gaming, at their events, and people started recognising me after that as a cosplayer.
How did you get in touch with NODWIN?
A friend of mine suggested my name to them. We exchanged pictures of characters I’d ‘played’. At that time they needed someone to play characters surrounding ‘Electronic, Robotics’ as a theme. We were discussing on Demon Hunter from Diablo III, Lina from Dota 2 and Genos from One Punch Man. I loved One Punch Man, so we exchanged more pictures, and they hired me.
What’s your most memorable cosplaying moment?
It happened while cosplaying as Samara Morgan from The Ring during Pune Comic Con. I got on stage for the cosplay competition and in character, I started crawling on stage. The crowd started shouting, screaming. When I was wearing that costume, I forgot myself, I felt more like Samara. It came naturally to me and I was absorbed into the cosplay.
So, tell me about the outfits...
I make most of them myself at home with fabric, foam, acrylic colours, pipes, etc, and the few things I don’t have time to make, I buy. It usually takes 3-4 days of continuous work. If I’m making the armour of a character, it can take longer. Learning all of it happened through YouTube and other cosplayers. It’s a very helpful community.
Which was the last Con you attended?
I went to an Anime Con recently in Chennai. It was completely different from the usual Comic Cons, where most people come as characters from DC and Marvel comics.
How do you choose a character?
I ask my friends. It’s an audience-based thing; I don’t know which character will do well, so why not ask people before going to work? After they suggest, I watch the anime or game, and then start working on it. It doesn’t matter if it’s famous or good-looking.
I go through the armour and body parts. If it requires me to work out, then I exercise also. If some characters have different skins, then I have to do more work on the makeup, which can sometimes take more than an hour.
I’m 5ft 3 inches tall, and pretty thin, so I can’t do characters with heavy armour. The character has to suit me physically.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
Mostly, I wanted to become a teacher. I’ve always wanted that. I’ve been teaching primary now for two years. I didn’t want to burden myself with higher grades, as it would require me to spend more time on my day job, which would take time away from my cosplaying.
How much money do you make a month cosplaying?
It’s a seasonal thing, and really dependant on the number of events as well as my willingness to attend as many as possible. The NODWIN gigs pay me upwards of Rs 15,000 for two days, which I think is a good amount.
Because of the teaching, I can’t go to each and every competition [these are held across India, where winners take home as much as Rs 40,000], but I try to go to as many Comic Cons as possible. I love the crowds in Bangalore and Hyderabad. I just love to present and share my work with people who understand. A few of my students also know, and they’re very proud. They think their teacher is a superhero.
What did you tell your family you do and how did they react?
They kept calling me a ‘cartoon’. They don’t know this world, but with time they’ve become more supportive, saying they’re happy that people appreciate my work. When I don’t have a gadget, or some material for a costume, they help me out. I really didn’t expect that much from them. My friends support me too. Most of them are cosplayers and engineers.
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