Published: 06th July 2019
Autism is my superpower: Pranav Bakshi, India's first model with autism
Pranav's Instagram bio says, 'Autism is my superpower! #Respect #BreakingBarriers'. Here's how the 19-year-old is overcoming all the hurdles in his path to become a supermodel
There's something very captivating about 19-year-old Pranav Bakshi. He is a superhero. Autism, he says, is his superpower. The 19-year-old recently made headlines by becoming India’s first autistic model. Pranav has walked the ramp for well-known fashion labels such as Benetton, US Polo Association and the likes.
As a kid, Pranav has had a pretty complicated medical history. He was diagnosed with autism at the early age of just two years. "He displayed typical symptoms of autism — speech regression, lack of eye contact, hyperactivity, not taking instructions and various sensory issues," says Pranav's mother, Anupama Bakshi.
Born in May 2000, Pranav started repeating what others would say — a condition called echolalia, his ability to speak worsened and soon he was diagnosed with autism. "The moment he was diagnosed, we immediately got down to work. I wanted to know more about autism and how I could bring out the best in him. For me, everything boiled down to my son and his well-being. Also, what has always been more important to us is keeping his dignity intact. It's not something that's been inflicted upon him, we always taught him that you don't suffer from things — you just have them, and so you deal with them," explains Anupama.
An all-rounder: Pranav also loves to play golf, click photos and listen to various kinds of music
Despite the developmental disorder, it never stopped Pranav from achieving his dreams. His mother decided that she would not let autism be a hurdle for her son. "My son had some behavioural issues when he was five. But now it's a lot better. To help him cope with things, I had created a parallel world where there were characters — a mother, a sister, a brother who were facing a lot of difficulties, crisis, crossroads and they had to choose the right option — may be out of four things. Pranav was doing a lot of these emotional and social exercises with me. It helped him evolve emotionally. He faced a lot of challenges in being social. But now he's comfortable with people around him," she adds.
Pranav has always been creative, says Anupama. "But at first, we were not able to figure out how to help him express his creativity. He has always been interested in music and art and was also good at elocution. Growing up he had a plethora of interests. He plays golf, he loves photography and also loves to travel," she exclaims. Pranav is currently pursuing a graphic designing course and studying in high school (open school).
Showstopper: Pranav's first ever ramp walk was at a fashion show at UB City mall in Bengaluru
She says that they first found out Pranav wants to be in the fashion industry when they visited the Art for Autism festival in Mumbai. "As a part of the creative movement therapy, they were teaching kids how to walk on the ramp. He wanted to do only that, so I let him. Another day, we were in a shopping mall in Delhi and Pranav saw models on an LCD screen and he found it spectacularly interesting. He told me 'I want to do this' and I laughed. My elder daughter convinced me that if Pranav wants to take up modeling then we should let him do that," says Anupama.
However, the journey hasn't been easy for them as offers don't come raining. Anupama says that she didn't know what to do. "We wanted him to go through the same journey like others — of success and failure," she says.
Pranav's first ever ramp walk was at a fashion show at UB City mall in Bengaluru. He auditioned with over 500 people out of which only 20 reached the finals. Eventually got some freelance opportunities. His big break came at the age of 18 years when he walked for Benetton. He had earlier walked for US Polo Association, which was a juniors' walk. "He would practice at home, practice at hotel rooms before shows. What's most interesting about him is that whenever he takes up a challenge, he doesn't want to just scrape through it, he tries his best to do it properly. After Benetton, we needed an agency. It was a long procedure and immensely tiring. Finally, we got a new agency in Delhi called Ninja's model management, who agreed to take Pranav on board. They didn't have a problem with autism, they said he fit the bill in all other ways — height, weight and he could pose for the camera," says Anupama.
Pranav's role model is Spanish supermodel Jon Kortajarena, and given his dedication, there is no reason why the 19-year-old can’t become a supermodel in his own right. "He is working on his anxiety. He needs to be more fit, maintain a diet and exercise for his future shows. He uses a lot of deep breathing techniques, writes in his journals, he has a functional way to communicate but he still takes time to get comfortable with new people. New places also bother him but then the coping mechanisms are in place. He has managed to control it properly," concludes Anupama.