Getting candid with one of the best cosplayers India has – Jeet Molankar, while introducing you with the cosplaying industry in India and the challenges that our cosplayers face.
"I decided to finally go for a comic con, which I knew before but never participated in. I then got much deeper into it and now it’s the only thing that I am doing with some of my very talented colleagues that I have gotten with along the way.” - Jeet Molankar
In India, followers and their corresponding followership for the Japanese Pop-culture have been rising impressively high over the recent years. Anime and manga have made some really good impressions on the minds of Indian audience as the viewership records of the recent past suggest. And other ingredients of the pop culture such as Cosplay and conventions have also tasted their own bits and pieces of success every now and then.
Although Indian fans have embraced the initiative efforts of people who have been bringing the Japanese pop culture here in India, we haven’t been quite able to commercialize that to a certain extent. Especially when we draw out comparisons with the adoption of the aesthetics of this popular culture by the western countries like USA and Canada.
In this article, we are going to cover the challenges that Cosplayers in India have to face and also the accomplishments that they have made, despite these challenges. And we’ll also cover a session of a conversation that I had with Jeet Molankar, one of the best Cosplayers in India, about his first very own costume building commercial project in the mainstream media.
A lot of people have put their efforts into nourishing the Japanese Pop-culture that has been growing in India for quite some years now. Several ways of popularizing the culture have been adopted by the Indian pioneers, but no other method has proven to be as effective as the cosplay shows in the comic conventions and other miscellaneous events. A lot of fans could relate to the time when a very few anime shows had only broken into the Indian markets and just a handful of them was even mentioned here and how Dragon Ball Z always stood out of them. How many people endeared the characters of the show were fulfilling to watch and how bad they wanted to see their very own Goku and Vegeta in the lifelike size that they were crazy to see the international cosplayers dressing up as their favourite characters. Little did they know how fortunate they were going to be to have some world-class cosplayers showing their top-notch work by dressing up as the popular anime and movie characters in their own country. Yeah, Indian cosplayers. With the rising stardom of western movies and eastern anime, the community of their representing individuals and their practices has also made the name in the Indian markets for their own.
As much love as they have gotten from the Indian admirers for their work and efforts of entertaining the audience by showcasing their brilliant skills of designing, they still have had to face several challenges against going mainstream with this art of theirs. To put it simply, these cosplayers, despite being amazing at their job, have been doing this thing as just a side gig… as a part-time hobby. This is a little sad to see when one keeps in mind the efforts that usually go into such cosplay events, and still not the growth that they deserve. The major backlash that they, along with so many talented and thriving artists trying to flourish their art here in India, face here are the financial hurdles. Lack of proper knowledge also troubles our artists for they are not always aware of what to look and where to look at to optimize the efforts and the budget. This could be an outcome of the limited reach of the community of cosplayers and the dearth of demand for designing such outfits and weapon models in several markets. Besides, the nudge that is required to kick-start the careers of these designers and performers, is hardly found in our country. It doesn’t need to be mentioned how just physical labour and adequate knowledge don’t get the work done; heavy costs also go into these types of things. A very large number of talented artists having loads of creativity and dedication towards building and performing cosplays and bringing their favourite characters to life are forced into putting a stop to their devotion facing the insufficiency of funds. It’s really sad to see their passion dying.
But as they say, there is always a morning to the darkest of the nights. There are certain bright rays of hope emerging out of what seemed like a tough cave to cross. Rays like Jeet Molankar!
Jeet Molankar, who already has represented India internationally and has won many awards several times now, is one of the best cosplayers and costume designers working right now in India. Jeet has achieved a milestone that could be seen as a turning point for the cosplay industry in India. Indian Premier League needs no introduction to possibly any Indian person; cricket fan or not. IPL, which is heading into its 13th season in 2020, is known for having interesting and innovative advertisement every season. Following its usual pattern, IPL organizers have another amazing ad coming this year. A bunch of superheroes trying to watch this cricket season with their friends while the ongoing lockdown is keeping them locked inside their houses. What makes it special for us this time is… having in knowledge the name of the man behind the superhero costumes used in the advertisement. Jeet Molankar and his team of accomplished Indian cosplayers such as Medha Shrivastava and Saurabh Rawat have designed and built the outfits for promotions of an international sports event.
I had a long and moving conversation with Jeet himself and he told me everything about how it all went down and how accomplished he felt to successfully bringing this project to life. He also gave me a little piece of advice that he thinks can help the thriving cosplayers in reaching new heights.
Here is a portion of the conversation between me and Jeet presented to you –
First things first, a little about Jeet as he quotes−
“I have always been into art and all, when I was little; I used to draw, make clay sculptures in school and all. Specifically, the characters like Optimus Prime and Goku had always fascinated me and I’d been inclined towards impersonating them. I went on to work for an ad agency, when I realized I wanted to more than just that, something about cosplay and stuff. That was when I decided to finally go for a comic con, which I knew before but never participated in. I then got much deeper into it and now it’s the only thing that I am doing with some of my very talented colleagues that I have gotten with along the way.”
What has brought you into this industry? What is your major motivation?
“I’ve wanted to design superhero costumes and dressed as a superhero as long as I can remember. And when I see the endless potential of Indian artists going in vain for not enough opportunities of designing costumes and lack of demand for their expertise leading to them heading out to work for other foreign brands and industries, it pumps me to work better in here and originate opportunities for myself and other talented people who are victimized by the orthodox approach of our nation’s movie industry. If you have paid attention, you’d see a lot of Indian names assisting in animation and designing departments of superheroes movies for Hollywood and I personally desire to bring that in India. So to sum it up, my larger goal is to cater this idea to a larger audience with as many opportunities I can get.”
Is cosplay all about comic conventions and summits or is there more? If not for comic conventions, where should cosplayers look for work and showcase their talent?
“The first thing I’d like to mention is; the word ‘cosplay’ has just coined. Its roots go way back into our history and culture. Dressing up as any character is termed as cosplay. How people used to dress up as Shaktiman in various Birthday parties, people impersonating deities in several occasions majorly as Krishna and Lord Shiva was also like cosplaying. So similarly, people who are into cosplay and want to do something about it, can just go out in the field and look for such kind of work in various parties, events, and can also contact event organizers who hire cosplayers for their events. Colleges have also started to include cosplay events into annual festivals, so people can also just go there and bring their cosplay on the front. Some institutions in Pune and Hyderabad are also trying to flourish cosplay into Indian society by having popular cosplayers telling other people who are into designing and performing cosplays how to make their career into it. It’s a slow start for now but if you see from where I see it, you’ll see an illuminated future for sure”
What are the major backdrops that are standing against Indian cosplayers and costume designers?
“The rigidity of our own industry and the dependability of our audience on the Hollywood movies and foreign brands for the provision of superhero stuff are majorly blocking the paths of cosplayers and costume designers to successfully move ahead. The Indian film industry has always aced in presenting the audience with world-class drama and romance but they haven’t even scratched the surface of the sci-fi genre yet, neither the horror movies are that mainstream here. And if the industry really decides upon exploring these genres, it could surely lead to costume designers getting more work and exhibit their talent. Even if you look at the small number of superhero movies that have been made by the Bollywood industry, you could easily notice how less attention they pay on the costumes despite costumes being an integral part of a superhero’s identity. So, basically, the directors and producers need to level up the game and understand the demand of the growing market. Besides, if cosplayers here are able to make so detailed and attractive costumes just out of their imagination and skilful hands, what’s stopping the movie makers from doing that? And if not themselves they should start hiring the cosplayers and costume designers for their projects to make their films more appealing to the audience and finally provide them with the art they deserve. And the problem is how the people who actually decide for all the inputs have far less knowledge about this modern stuff than a regular pop culture kid has, you see, if they don’t even know about the work they are doing, the result wouldn’t come out as good. To overcome this, I just wish that the industry should start welcoming the people with more knowledge about the pop culture they want to make movies about if they want expected outcomes; as only those who know about the characters and stories can do justice with them in bringing them on screen.
Now that you have completed this project so flawlessly and you’re past this, the advertisement has already released and taken very well by the viewers, what is the next big thing you’re looking at from now on?
As I already mentioned, I’m looking to hit big screen now. If you see, Marvel and DC movies tend to release their movies in India first, before their own countries, just because they find the better business here than their own markets. Now if they have such huge impacts in our markets, why can’t we make our own movies having the same superhero stuff and earn the same loads that foreign movies have been making for so many years now. This is high time Bollywood should step up now; we already have a lot of content ready to be filmed already. Just as I said, the degree of potential India has is way too high to be left untapped. We’ve yet to make good movies in the horror genre where costume designing is a major issue to work upon. We can create monsters and ghost costumes for the movies… you see, unless we give the audience some quality content, they won’t appreciate it. If not Bollywood, if not just superhero movies, the TV shows can also work on horror and thriller shows where the costume designing can be used and be offered to show what they’re capable of. People are tired of watching all the romantic drama on the screen now. So, I think it’s high time we should level up our game now.”
What is the bigger outlook now? Is it your major thing now or you are still relying on some other commercial job for financial stability?
“This is only the bigger outlook; this has always been my vision to work for television by designing superhero costumes and taking this cosplay thing to a bigger screen and larger audience. And no, I’m not working on any other complementary job for financial aid, for I’m also working in the prop building business. Once you’re in this industry, you get a lot of offers of designing and building props for general parties, events, conventions and sometimes even other cosplayers who are not much into designing their props themselves. So yeah, if you’ve been doing this thing for years and wish to hit big now, you have to eventually let go of your regular job, as this designing job takes a lot of time and efforts.
And for financial matters, cosplayers also get work from several companies and enterprises via NDA, the Non-Disclosure Agreement, which allows us to work majorly for prop building for different projects. This is good from a financial and experience point of view. Although we don’t get to enjoy the recognition and name for our work we do get paid satisfactorily and above all, we learn so many things about the industry that stay unknown to many. I, myself, have worked with companies for prop building and that pays well, so I can financially sustain myself. And due to the same NDA, I can’t disclose any of such work here.”
What was the biggest challenge that you faced while working on the costumes in the making of this advertisement?
It was not as challenging at first as we have our team ready and not needed to be mentioned how talented and skilful all of them are, so, they made it look a doable job. But yeah, as for the challenges there were there for deigning those superhero costumes was how meticulous we had to be and that we couldn’t afford any leniency or laziness while preparing those costumes, as you see while designing for the advertisement, one has to keep in mind how everything has to be top-notch and flawless if you want to make the audience happy. Nothing goes unnoticed; every little detail catches the eyes of viewers and the fact that advertisements like these are watched again and again so you just have to be extremely careful at designing and preparing each and every prospect of it. Other than that, the audience has grown smarter and sharper now, so they tend to observe much more than what they used to. Rewatchability of the ads like these also highly depends on the rich details you put in them. The precise measurements, proper fittings, appealing colours and characteristic designs with keeping in mind the comfort of the people who are wearing them and performing is a lot to work upon. So, it takes a lot to be this precise and disciplined with your work. So yeah we had to be in our fasten belts all the time and work around the clock to finally be able to do it as well as we did. It was an amazing experience though, and we’ve also moved a step further with it by taking this thing to the next level.”
What are the major challenges that other people who want to follow this profession have to face in Indian markets? Are there any suggestions that you would like to deliver to those struggling cosplayers and prop-makers?
The major challenges are nothing but the lack of knowledge about various factors of designing only. Those who are into this business do know how many small fragments go into making the final outfit, and to gather all those little components of both costumes and the complementary props along with them. Making of swords, helmets, face masks, and many other prosthetics that go with the costumes require different materials to be used and then if you have been inside this industry for quite some time, you’d come across many unfamiliar terms that basically mean the regular everyday items only. But if you don’t know those terms already you’ll find it pretty difficult to first figure out what they are and that where can you get those items in the market. Like, there’s this ‘Faux Leather’, you see, faux leather is nothing but regular Rexine. And you can get rexine in as much quantity you want from any leather workshop. But unless you know what these terms generally mean, you would find it extremely hard to find them and use them and you’ll spend a lot of time in finding items that are just under your nose. Once you know what exactly you are looking for, you also need to be updated and aware of where to find them. Picking the right places for gathering the materials for your costumes and props has a vital role to play in saving you time and also keeping your budget intact. So basically once a person knows about all this stuff, he can surely make it up till something big comes up and then welcome it with his arms open. This knowledge is quite necessary for the strugglers if they want to sustain in this industry.
Finally, is there any piece of advice that you would like to give to other cosplayers who want to achieve as big as you?
“There is no particular word of wisdom that can take you ahead. Just the dedication and persistence in you will be your propeller and motivator at the same time. And then, as I said, perfect knowledge should be gained by the new cosplayers and those who are thriving for designing costumes and props. That can only be done when one lands on the field himself; you’ll have to wander on streets, visit several shops, make various contacts and only when one is past that phase, can he efficiently design costumes.
Additionally, when you’re new in this industry, you should try to pick out as much time of your schedule to collect the items and designing costumes and even preparing for cosplay events but also try to keep your job intact. If you completely depend on this thing, you can find financial troubles at the very beginning of your career. By the time when you’ve started earning from it, you can leave your job and make it your major thing if you want.”
Note: Pictures are taken from Jeet Molankar's social media profile with his permission. The credit belongs to the original photographer who clicked them.