Indian costume designer Bhanu Athaiya, the first person to win an Oscar for India is no more

Monday 19th October 2020 06:28 EDT

Oscar winning Indian costume designer Bhanu Athaiya passed away on October 15, 2020 after suffering complications of brain cancer in South Mumbai at the age of 91. She worked on over 100 films, with Indian filmmakers such as Guru Dutt, Yash Chopra, B.R. Chopra, Raj Kapoor, Vijay Anand, Raj Khosla, and Ashutosh Gowariker; and international directors such Conrad Rooks and Richard Attenborough. Athaiya was born in Kolhapur in Maharashtra. She was the third of the seven children born to Annasaheb and Shantabai Rajopadhye. Athaiya's father, Annasaheb was a painter. He died when Athaiya was nine years old. 


Before Bhanu Athaiya won the Oscar for Best Costume Design for Gandhi in 1983, she was already responsible for some of Hindi cinema's most iconic images and 'looks'. A thread celebrating her work and talent from 1956 - 1980. She was born as Bhanumati Rajopadhye in Kolhapur; she debuted in film CID. She was the first Indian to win the Oscar and 100+ films including Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, Guide, Ganga Jumna, Waqt, Teesri Manzil, Chandni, Lagaan.  She was once famously quoted saying, “The clothes couldn't be done sitting in Mumbai. I stayed in the village & studied the costumes of local people.” 


She designed costumes for iconic films like  ’Reshma aur Shera’  starring Amitabh Bachchan, Jayant, Sunil Dutt, Vinod Khanna, Sulochana. Bhanu Athaiya also designed costumes for  Waheeda Rehman in Guide, Vyjayanthimala in Amrapali, Sadhana in Waqt and Helen in  Teesri Manzil. She was also the brain behind what is probably the most memorable, most iconic costume of the 1960s: The Mumtaz saree from Brahmachari.


She won the Academy Award for Best Costume Design (shared with John Mollo) for her work in the 1982 film, Gandhi. She became the first Indian to win an Academy Award.She also won two National Film Awards, in 1991 and 2002. According to a publication, on 23 February 2012, it was reported that Athaiya wished to return her Academy Award to The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences because she felt that her family will not be able to take care of the trophy after her demise. On 15 December 2012, it was confirmed that the trophy had been returned to The Academy. 

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