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Meet Ramkripa Ananthan, 40, who heads the 20-member all-Indian styling team that worked on the XUV500. The diminutive designer describes herself as an “out-of-doors type” – she cruises on a Bajaj Avenger, has biked from Manali to Srinagar via Leh, trekked in the Sahyadris and run the Mumbai half marathon.

Describe your job?

I head the styling team of Mahindra & Mahindra (M&M). There are 20 designers in the team and 10 model makers. Sub-groups work on different projects at the same time.

What did you study? How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?

I graduated in mechanical engineering from BITS-Pilani and post-grad in industrial design from Industrial Design Centre of IIT-Bombay. I joined M&M as an interior designer in 1997 at the Nashik factory in Maharashtra.

What have you been doing at M&M?

The challenge was to match up to Anand Mahindra’s ambition of building a ‘world’ SUV. “The ‘global’ bit was not easy. We met a lot of customers, studied a lot of trends, did many workshops, evolved interesting processes and finally we decided to take forward a theme called ‘feeling the power’.”

The team worked on nine different concepts of the exteriors and 17 of the interiors. Concept six, says Ananthan, had the silhouette of the pounce and the haunch of a cheetah, going back to her favourite metaphor.

“A cheetah’s design language is edgy and not machine-like; if we didn’t go for it, we would have had designs that would have been more conservative – as in boxy or more rounded,” says the design diva who hopes to make concept cars of 2-3 of the other prototypes.

Can you desscribe a few challenges?

The Mahindra XUV 500’S door handle, when first designed, was slightly convex, trapezoidal, and of one whole piece the size of a large palm. It rested horizontally on the door frame and was fixed at its right end. You pulled from the left end to open and enter. When my boss saw it, he had a question. “Suppose,” he said, “I have shopping bags in my left hand, how can I open the door with my right hand?” He was right. Someone with shopping bags would have to twist, extend his right hand and then bend it backwards to open the door. The said person could, of course, just shift the bags to the right hand, but that was beside the point. “We said, ‘We will think of something’,” says Ramkripa. And so, the design team came up with a solution—a hole in the middle, so that the right hand can easily work its way in and pull the handle.

Designing an SUV involves hundreds, if not thousands, of such fine details that the person who buys the vehicle has no clue about.