Oscar-winning costume designer Bhanu Athaiya passes away at 91

Bhanu Athaiya won the Best Costume Design Oscar for her work in the 1982 film Gandhi.

Costume designer Bhanu Athaiya, India’s first Oscar winner, passed away in Mumbai on Thursday. She was 91.

Athaiya’s daughter Radhika Gupta told PTI, “She passed away early this morning. Eight years ago, she was diagnosed with a tumour in her brain. For the last three years, she was bedridden because one side (of her body) was paralysed.” The last rites took place at the Chandanwadi crematorium in South Mumbai.

Bhanu Athaiya won the Best Costume Design Oscar for her work in the 1982 film Gandhi. She managed to give the characters in the Richard Attenborough directorial an authentic look. In her memoir The Art Of Costume Design, Athaiya mentioned how she was the only Indian among the heads of department on the film.

Athaiya also designed costumes for Bollywood movies like C.I.D, Pyaasa, Kagaz Ke Phool, Waqt, Arzoo, Amrapali, Suraj, Anita, Milan, Raat Aur Din, Shikar, Guide, Teesri Manzil, Mera Saaya, Inteqam, Abhinetri, Johny Mera Naam, Geeta Mera Naam, Abdullah, Karz, Ek Duuje Ke Liye, Razia Sultan, Nikaah, Agneepath (1990), Ajooba and 1942 – A Love Story among others.

Bhanu Athaiya was born in Kolhapur on April 28, 1929. She never attended a fashion school. When Athaiya started to work in films, she felt ‘fulfilled’. In an earlier interview, she had shared, “For me, it (working for cinema) became a way to express myself and let my imagination soar. It was so fulfilling that I did not feel the need to do anything else, like opening a boutique. Top stars started approaching me on their own and recommending me to filmmakers. Nargis loved my designs.”

Athaiya’s list of international films also includes Conrad Rook’s daring Siddhartha and Krishna Shah’s Indo-American production Shalimar. There was also the German short film The Cloud Door.

In 2012, Banu Athaiya returned her Oscar to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for safe-keeping.


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