Racing to the Finish Line

Meet budding entrepreneur in automotive design, Pragya Charu Manihar, who has ventured into the male-dominated field with her head held high


Nisthula Nagarajan

Published: Sun 15 Aug 2021, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Wed 29 Sep 2021, 6:12 AM

The City of Gold is also a city of exquisite automobiles. From Lambos to Ferraris to Teslas, the roads of the UAE have gone viral for the hordes of luxury automobiles that rev through it daily. Many children who have grown up here come to have a love for cars and can appreci- ate a sleek design. Pragya Charu Manihar is one of them.

Manihar grew up in a humble town on the UAE-Oman border, travelling to school in Al Ain every day. As far as her memory goes back, she remembers that every weekend, the whole family would get in the car and road trip two hours to Dubai. As she has grown older, she realises that this is where her love for cars and their design comes from. Her father would take her along to the Dubai Motor Show every year. School trips to Art Dubai, where she would interact with artists from various parts of the world and their art, played a large role too.

With cars being such an integral part of the culture of the UAE and especially Dubai, as the country leapfrogged in development, so did Manihar’s passion for automotive design.

“The machinery of a vehicle and how it revolutionised world industry, fascinated me. Vehicles have evolved to suit its driver and passenger, and are still evolving with electric and driverless technologies. At the same time, I was drawn towards art. This led me to interpret details and curves on cars and I understood automobile design better,” says Manihar.

After several years in the field, Manihar primary passion for automotive design comes from its perpetual limitless scope. According to her, the world is at the epicentre of a growing global ecosystem, where design plays a huge role. What started with steam engines, to oil and now an electric infrastructure, automobiles will always be a part of the latest technologies.

The automotive sector is now even playing with technologies like augmented reality, virtual reality and artificial intelligence, which is
exhilarating for the future. Continuous learning is part of the process, and the skills of those in the industry have to keep adapting to these rapidly changing design tools.

One of the challenging factors is that there are few women in this field. However, Manihar says it is getting better. In fact, today the industry is looking for more eccentric women designers to give a more multi-dimensional value to its products.

She has also had the good fortune to work with some of her professional role models. She has interned for Tesla’s design studio where Elon Musk would visit. David Hilton, who was also the head of design at Bentley Design, was her mentor during her internship at Nio. On a personal note, it is her father that inspires her infinitely with his travel stories and experiences acquired during his lifetime.

Manihar now finds that the nuances of design have infiltrated their way into her life. “The thing about seeing everything from a design perspective is that you start question- ing everything. As a designer, you build the ability to challenge existing concepts. This helps you with breaking down societal norms and gives you a problem-solving approach for your daily activities. I think everyone, whether they are aware of it or not, does incorporate design in their daily life.”

The company works both independently and partners with progressive people/ companies that want meaningful product development. It specialises in industrial design, transportation design, 3D visualisation and art direction.

Though design takes a huge chunk of her day, she creates time for her other passions. She stresses that a strict daily fitness
regime that involves swimming, cardio, yoga, Kenpo, and dance is part and parcel of her life. Whenever she gets ‘designer’s block’ she spends time outdoors with nature to break through it.

Today she is co-owner of an eclectic industrial design consultancy that integrates itself with technology, art and design called Opacity & Co. She, along with her business partner, founded this studio when they both were freelancing and wanted to establish a combined name under their skillsets.

Manihar advises other women who have similar interests to venture into the field, “If you are someone who loves art and has a flair
for technical aspects of things, this is a great place to be. Even if you are a non-core engineer who is into coding, gaming and you like to challenge yourself, the design industry will allow you to make a positive future for yourself and others.”


Happy Independence Day! Stay safe, and let’s play our part in making the future kinder.

More news from Supplements