Bollywood calling Indian-origin model confined to wheelchair

23-year-old Virali Modi last visited Mumbai in 2006 and contracted malaria when she went back to the US, putting an end to her modelling plans; she is now back in the city to give auditions, and is eyeing a big Bollywood break

When she last visited Mumbai, this Indian-origin model from the United States ended up contracting malaria that confined her to a wheelchair and put an end to her ambitious modelling plans. Refusing to let her condition affect her dreams, she worked hard all these years and is now hunting for modelling assignments and roles in Bollywood.

Viral Modi (with Dr Alok Sharma, left) claims a well-known Bollywood director has offered her an audition and is confident of getting the role
Viral Modi (with Dr Alok Sharma, left) claims a well-known Bollywood director has offered her an audition and is confident of getting the role

Virali Modi, a 23-year-old resident of Pennsylvania, was born in Mumbai. At the tender age of 13, she completed a modelling and acting course from the Barbizon Modelling and Acting School in the US. In July 2006, when she was 14 years old, Modi visited Mumbai. However, when she returned to the US a month later, she forgot to take anti-malarial shots.

Modi claims she was to sign a modelling contract for a popular international soft drink, but suddenly fell sick and had to be hospitalised, resulting in the opportunity slipping from her hands. She says that during her stay in hospital, her condition worsened and she even slipped into coma.

“The treating doctors had almost declared me clinically dead, but after a few minutes I bounced back to life. But gradually, I realised that I was not able to move my legs and had to take to a wheelchair thereafter,” she recalled. Instead of plunging into despair, Modi worked hard on regaining her mobility, so she could pursue her dream of becoming a model and actor.

She moved back to Mumbai in 2008 for treatment. Dr Alok Sharma, a noted neurosurgeon who is treating Modi, told mid-day, “Virali has been under my care for the last four years. She was brought to me with a history of damaged spinal cord and swelling, that was a result of some infection that had made her completely immobile.

She underwent stem cell therapy, and, over a period of time, has started showing tremendous improvement.” Dr Sharma added that Modi could now walk with support, change positions, and do routine tasks independently. Last year, the young woman entered Miss Wheelchair, a beauty pageant, and was declared runner-up.

The success further buoyed her spirits. “Though I was immobile, I was confident that I would be able to move one day and I am happy that I am back to cherish my dreams of being a model and actor. I have no regrets; I have always been positive and optimistic.

I want others to pursue their dreams and be positive about them, they will surely achieve their dream one day,” she said, adding that she has been auditioning for some ad films. “Just last week, a well-known film director called me for an audition and I am sure I will get through.

The director had spotted me during the wheelchair beauty pageant,” she stated. Modi wants to use the platform of Bollywood to spread awareness about the needs of persons with disabilities, among the general public. “Whenever I go to a mall, I see many young people waiting for the lift and not using escalators.

Even after looking at me, they don’t realise that I am on a wheelchair and have to take the lift, and that they should make use of other options like stairs or escalators,” she told this paper.

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