Bhanu Athaiya, first Indian to win an Oscar, dies at 91

Lawrence Kim
October 17, 2020

She was apprehensive of the award's security in India, considering the theft of Rabindranath Tagore's Nobel Prize medal from Shantiniketan some years previously.

She won the Academy Award for Best Costume Design in Richard Attenborough's Gandhi along with John Mollo.

Designing costumes for Gandhi was tough, she said, because it was hard to capture the look over decades of his life with no access to the internet for inspiration.

The Oscar was one of many awards he won in her career. She designed my costumes in films like Patthar Ke Sanam, Brahmachari, Bandhan, and Roop Tera Mastana.

She designed for more than 100 Indian films over a career spanning almost 60 years.

Oscar-winning sound designer Resul Pookutty shared this tribute: "A gem of Indian Cinema is gone!"

Bhanu Athaiya's body of work as a costume designer also includes films such as Swades, Prem, 1942: A Love Story, Agneepath, Karz, Mr. Natwarlal, Jaani Dushman among others. What an wonderful body of work- Oscar winning costume designer for Gandhi, the inventor of the Mumtaz saree... an inspiration to so many young designers.

Bhanu Athaiya began her career as a costume designer in Hindi cinema with Guru Dutt's 1956 superhit "C.I.D", and went on to work in over 100 films. She was proud that she had trained as an artist in the prestigious J J School of Art in Mumbai in the 1950s.

But the effort was worthwhile. Then, she'd come with her tailor and spend an hour watching the fi tting closely. "To do that, and be a part of showing his life to the world, was a high for me". Thank you Sir Richard Attenborough for focusing world attention on India.

In 2012, she returned the Oscar to the Academy for safe keeping.

"People may mishandle the trophy, so it's best to return it to the academy", she told the Hindustan Times.

Who has paid tribute to Bhanu Athaiya?

Sunil Seth, chairman of the Fashion Design Council India said she has been a "torchbearer of design", in a statement shared with CNN. When she was hired for "Gandhi", she was by some distance the most in-demand costume designer in India. Not every producer could afford her, but many obliged because they knew I was comfortable with her. Athaiya was the only Indian department head in the team. Athaiya is also a two-time National Award victor for costume designing in "Lekin" (1991) and "Lagaan" (2001).

"Very saddened by the news of Bhanu Athaiya's demise". Such a contributor to films from Guru Dutt to Oscar-winning "Gandhi". "She will be studied for her brilliance", she said.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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