Medha Srivastava’s Instagram reels bring to mind Nymphadora Tonks, the metamorphmagus from the Harry Potter series, who can change her appearance at will. Because, armed with costumes, prosthetics, makeup and exceptional skill, Mumbai-based Srivastava slips in and out of some of the unlikeliest characters one can imagine: Hector Salamanca from Breaking Bad, Arthur and Thomas Shelby from Peaky Blinders, Dwight Schrute from The Office, Loki from Marvel series—why, she has even turned into actor Dhanush’s Suruli from Jagame Thandhiram and aced the expressions and lip sync. This is besides female characters like Isabela from Encanto, Wednesday Addams from Wednesday and several others from the gaming world.
Srivastava, who has a degree in animation and film design from Symbiosis Institute of Design, has been a concept artist for close to a decade now. With her background in gaming, films and the arts (both creative and performance), she was naturally attracted to cosplay. In June, she won the Cosplay Championship Trophy at Comic Con India Cosplay Contest 2023 for her portrayal of Alexstrasza, a character from the popular game World of Warcraft.
Her powerful artwork also features on her Instagram, and tends to be often unflinchingly political – she has made art on the women wrestlers’ protests, farmers’ protests, mob lynchings and child sexual abuse.
Over the past two years, Srivastava has also been working on artwork that goes with the productions of musical composer AR Rahman. In an interview with Lounge, the artist talks about her journey, balancing cosplay and her art career, and drawing inspiration from her peers.
I was working in Bengaluru as a game artist when I heard about comic con. Our boss convinced us to take part in the event and cosplay a character from the gaming world. I was sceptical at first, as it sounded like a fancy dress competition, but I managed to create some costumes.
It turned out to be such a magical event for me, almost everyone there was dressed up as their favourite character and it was amazing to witness. As an artist, I could see what has gone into the costumes—makeup, costumes, props; I was intrigued. I learnt about the process of cosplaying, I watched tutorials and attended workshops by international cosplayers. That’s how I got started. The next year, I won a prize. Since then, I have been winning at comic con continuously.
In 2019, I went to Shanghai to take part in the International Cosplay Contest and I was the first woman to win the championship. It gave me the confidence to take this up as a profession, so I started collaborating with brands like Netflix, Amazon, and other OTT and gaming companies. It was a challenge to get them to pay fairly at first, as most people don’t understand how much work goes into cosplay, but for the past couple of years, it’s been good.
I am from Mumbai, so finding a decent space to work from was a headache. Recently, I started sharing a rented space with one of my cosplayer friends. It’s a small space with all our materials and instruments – there are airbrushes, scissors, cutters, paints, sprays…there is one big mannequin that we use for draping the material. We designed the mannequin's head based on our own heads so it’s easier for us to create prosthetics. The materials take up most of the space, leaving very little space for us to move around. It is easier that way because everything you need is right in front of you, so it’s easier to focus on the process.
Before I won the championship, I used to work out of the small Mumbai home where I live with my family. I would work from different spots—the terrace, the parking lot. I would go to my friends’ houses sometimes. After a point, my mother got irritated. The whole house started to look like a workshop, filled with crafting materials and fumes from the Fevicol. So I had to figure out a different arrangement.
If I am working on my art projects, I work out of my desk at home. If I have a cosplay project I am working on, I visit the studio every day. Sometimes, when I have both, I divide my time between the two places: half a day at home and half a day at the workshop. I have become better at (balacing the two) over time. When I travel to Chennai for my work with AR Rahman, I sometimes take my cosplay material with me and work on them when I get the time.
I don’t think I have such a thing. My parents have taught me not to get attached to particular things because then if something were to go wrong, I might end up thinking it’s because I didn’t have this or that. That said, I believe in the spiritual side of things. I was really close to my grandmom, who is no more. Anytime I’m in a competition or a big event, I always remember her.
One is Alyson Tabbitha, she is a makeup artist and a cosplayer. I always felt that this was the kind of cosplay that I can do because I was also into makeup transformations. I have watched all her tutorials, she has been an idol for me. A few years back, she followed me on Instagram! There’s another cosplayer called Kamui—I think she is the best prop-maker in the world. She conducts workshops on how to build costumes—she has been another big influence. That said, there are so many cosplayers who may not be as popular but…I learn something or the other from so many of them.
Since I spent the past few months working on something so ambitious (Alexstrasza, which won me the trophy), I am looking to do something simple that the masses can connect with easily. Like Wonder Woman, or Jibaro from Love Death + Robots. I am also looking to combine cosplay with dancing, as I love to dance. I have another ambitious project in mind for this year: I want to take some Indian goddesses, make up my own versions and cosplay as them. Without hurting anyone’s religious sentiments, of course. It’s risky, but I feel Indian gods and goddesses present the scope for amazing costume designs. Let’s see!
Indumathy Sukanya is a Bengaluru-based writer and artist