Delhi- based fashion designer Sanskriti Sharma wears a life-sized doll to escape the monotony of her human life. The 27-year-old created Paño, an imaginary character, to enter into a creative space of her own and experience escapism. Sharma spills the secrets of how having an imaginary character of her own is an ode to the child inside her, and how the two travel to magical places together. By Srushti Kulkarni
Excerpts from the interview with Sanskriti Sharma, creator of Paño:
T+L India: What does the doll mean?
Sanskriti Sharma: Paño represents that having an alien vision of the world helps you to notice the small details and diversity which is generally missed by the consumed human eye. I believe one must have the vision to do anything meaningful — a vision you believe in and express consistently. Paño is a life-size doll with an unapologetic point of view.
T+L India: What is Paño’s motto in life?
Sanskriti Sharma: Paño believes in the present without having a fear of the unknown secrets the future holds. Her only motto is that she wants every day to be a fresh start on expanding her dreams and imagination.
T+L India: As Paño, you get to shoot at some beautiful locations. How is 2022 looking for you when it comes to travel?
Sanskriti Sharma: Shooting at locations is fun but it comes with its challenges such as people gathering all around, becoming an attraction for the cops and more. The moment I wear my super head, I am the centre of attraction for the crowds as suddenly I become the non-human character among the humans. It is a challenge to pull off the shoot when a lot is going on outside. But we still keep travelling in search of new locations for the next story. This year, we still have a lot to explore when it comes to travel. Every time I travel, I am gifted with beautiful inspirations and stories for my next creation.
T+L India: What does travel mean to Paño and how fond of travelling is she?
Sanskriti Sharma: I believe the eye has to travel! Travel is an expression of freedom for me. The meaning of home has changed for me over the months as I travel around frequently in search of stories. So, travel is a reason for my very own existence.
T+L India: We heard that Paño loves meeting new people and hearing new stories. Did you feel a personal connection with the people of any particular place?
Sanskriti Sharma: I love to live in another person’s thoughts. One of the ways I get ideas is by stepping out and observing people. I make up stories in my head about their lives based on what I see. Once you understand the world, a character lives in you and you can support that part with your story. I feel connected with all these characters around me in my observing moments.
T+L India: How would you describe your childhood?
Sanskriti Sharma: Paño’s story is created in my world of imagination. From an early age, I saw the realities around me differently than everyone else. I used to live in my fantasy world, and have a different version of me existing in an alternate universe. I used to create characters for my little imaginative world of mine. Reading stories or creating narratives was my way of consuming the world. In one word, my childhood was ‘imaginative’.
T+L India: What’s the defining moment in your life which resulted in the creation of Paño?
Sanskriti Sharma: I always wanted to depict reality in my way. When you live around your tribe or society, there is pressure to fit into the societal norms and standards. We don’t look different because there is a constant fear of being judged for who we are, and hence we feel safer camouflaged amongst the others. When you travel to the unknown and leave society behind you, you are free to be anyone; you are free to be you. Paño is my way of teleporting myself to the unknown, and go out in the world creating magic for myself.
T+L India: What is it like to live like a character? Give us an insight into your life under the wraps.
Sanskriti Sharma: Through Paño, I discover myself every day. It is as though I visit the insides of my mind and explore the hidden secrets I am made of. It’s therapy! We always meet different people but how often do we meet ourselves?
T+L India: You say that Paño is a form of escapism. Why did you choose this particular form of a half doll to escape and what are you escaping from?
Sanskriti Sharma: Each one of us has our melody. We just need to take out the time to listen to it. People don’t want to see themselves as a part of the same piece of music. Paño is a different melody of mine altogether. It doesn’t fit in any existing piece of music. I escape from my worldly version to an imaginary version that I choose to call Paño. With her, I celebrate the daily fragments of life in the form of storytelling. I escape to experience a creative side of mine. I imagined Paño and built her character. Now it’s a part of the real world. I believe that is what creativity is all about. We have the power to imagine a world that isn’t our world. It’s about metamorphosis and transformation.
T+L India: How do you respond to those who criticise your form of escapism?
Sanskriti Sharma: We all need a form of escapism to recharge our soul, to nourish the mind, and to feel the wonder every day. Else we will be lulled to numbness. I choose to respond with my work because you can’t bother a non-human version of mine. Only humans are privileged to be disturbed by the judgments of people around us.
T+L India: What were some obstacles that you faced while building your career as an imaginary character among the real ones? How did you overcome them?
Sanskriti Sharma: Before stepping my foot in the social platform, I always wondered what the blueprint was. In my case, unfortunately there isn’t one. I choose to follow no rules. I have had to create my blueprint for my career without having the fear of acceptance—in my case, an imaginary character among the real ones.
T+L India: Do you put up the doll to not conform to societal norms about beauty?
Sanskriti Sharma: According to me, beauty isn’t something that needs to be defined. It is a feeling and not a pressure to be suppressed in. I put up my character because I enjoy this other form of me as it is my form of escapism. Through Paño, I have found a language of my own.
T+L India: How did your family and friends respond to this idea of living like a character?
Sanskriti Sharma: I was never cautioned by my family and friends because they know me and wanted no explanation for the choice. They were happy that I have found my ikigai in the form of Paño.
T+L India: Every look of Paño is magical. How do you achieve that look?
Sanskriti Sharma: It takes time to think about the story, composition and location. Sometimes, just honing an idea (the thinking and researching) takes days. Then I write, doodle, and put it on my idea wall. It takes more than one magician to execute the imagination beautifully. I give the majority of credits to my all-time photographer Ishant Kohli. It takes a whole lot of patience and time to shoot with a life-size doll. During every shoot, he is my guidance for the outside world while I am inside my big head. During my shoot, the place transforms into a space where parable meets memoir meets metaphor.
T+L India: According to Paño’s Instagram feed, she is fascinated by the idea of telling stories through a puppet show. Which is Paño’s favourite story to narrate via puppetry? Are any puppet shows on your bucket list?
Sanskriti Sharma: The puppet show was the first interesting way of storytelling I discovered when I was a child during one of our family travels. Since then, I have been fascinated by the idea of giving doll-like puppets a character inspired by personalities around. I would like to showcase my escapism via a puppet show for people to experience the story and feel the magic I have put into the character. So yes, this is on my bucket list.