They wear fur-like material to work, rain or shine. They are always on their toes to catch the attention of shoppers. They like the work not for the few hundred rupees they are paid, but for the satisfaction of seeing the smile on the faces of children.
Meet the men in costumes of cartoon characters who are a ubiquitous part of shop openings, birthday parties, wedding receptions and other festivities. Often standing in scorching heat, these men wear the costumes and entertain customers for hours.
R. Shankar of Choolaimedu, one such entertainer, says the job gives him an equal amount of satisfaction and sorrow.
“It's a nice feeling to dress like cartoon characters even though it is very suffocating. I entertain people, mainly children, who excitedly shake hands and click photos with me. I've worked at birthday parties, marriage functions, shop openings and even corporate send-offs and I'm often dressed as Winnie the Pooh,” adds Shankar, who has also worn cartoon costumes of Dora, Mickey Mouse and Tom Cat.
But work can be unpleasant at times for the men with the very same children they entertain.
“Unruly children at parties are a big menace. There were a number of instances when they pulled the tail of my costume, attacked me and knocked me down on the floor. It becomes very difficult to control as there will often be a bunch of kids,” says Senthilnathan, a newcomer to the profession.
Men such as Shankar and Senthil work three hours per session and get paid Rs.200, excluding food and travel allowance.
Raja of Magic Raja Entertainment in Trustpuram, who supplies manpower, says that there are more than 100 agencies like his in the city. “I started my career 15 years ago as a mascot dancer. Things were harder those days as the costumes were of poor quality with very little ventilation and visibility,” avers Raja.
He adds that the new range of such costumes are state-of-the-art imported pieces costing Rs.18,000 each.
However, Raja says it has become difficult to find people to wear costumes of cartoon characters as most of them shy away citing severe sweating and giddiness at the end of work.
“The heavy mask of my Subman costume often gives a headache for the next two days after work and the tight pants are utmost uncomfortable. But it is part of my job, therefore I have no reason to complaint,” says P. Subramani, who wears a sandwich costume for fast-food joint Subway.