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Bhanu Athaiya (1929-2020): India’s first Oscar winner, creator of hit Bollywood moments and costumes for 60 yrs

Written by Benita Fernando
, Ektaa Malik
| Munbai, New Delhi |

October 16, 2020 1:17:54 am


Athaiya with the Gandhi crew on the Oscars.(Courtesy: Prinseps)

From the khaddar saris worn by Rohini Hattangady as Kasturba in Gandhi to Gracy Singh’s vivid red-and-orange bhandej dupatta in Lagaan, Bhanu Athaiya gave new that means to the aim of costumes. Utilizing analysis and element, she captured the true India in her costumes, and by no means used ornamentation and embellishment as crutches. Her profession spanned 60 years and about 100 movies, and he or she was India’s first Oscar winner.

Athaiya handed away within the early hours of Thursday in Mumbai. She had been identified with meningioma in 2012 however had continued to work; her final costume design was for the Marathi movie Nagrik in 2014.

Athaiya made her debut in 1953, designing costumes for Kamini Kaushal in Shahenshah and Aas. She adopted it up with Guru Dutt’s CID (1956), and went on to turn out to be part of his core staff, doing Pyaasa in 1957, Chaudhvin Ka Chand in 1960, and Sahib Biwi aur Ghulam in 1962. Her different in style initiatives embrace Brahmachari (1968), Information (1965), Agneepath (1990), Lagaan (2001) and Swades (2004). For a while, she was the one girl costume designer within the business.

Athaiya shared her 1982 Oscar for Gandhi with John Mollo. The movie’s director, Richard Attenborough, described her as “the revered doyenne of Indian costume designers” in his foreword to her memoir, The Artwork Of Costume Design.

Recalling the riot scene within the movie, couturier Tarun Tahiliani mentioned: “She had a deep understanding of what India was and that’s what she delivered to the display screen. To have the ability to create a imaginative and prescient of India by means of 100,000 individuals on the units of Gandhi, that’s unparalleled. She was the best mix of aesthetic and mind. We don’t see that anymore in Bollywood. For Bhanu it was all concerning the little particulars round her.”

In 2012, Athaiya returned her Oscar to the custody of the Academy of Movement Image Arts and Sciences. She was apprehensive of the award’s safety in India, contemplating the theft of Rabindranath Tagore’s Nobel Prize medal from Shantiniketan some years beforehand.

Athaiya (née Rajopadhye) was born and raised in Kolhapur. Her father was a painter and he or she was the third of seven kids. Athaiya got here to Mumbai in 1945 and joined the Sir JJ College of Artwork. She turned the primary, and solely, girl to be invited to affix the Bombay Progressives, and was a part of their seminal exhibition in 1953 on the Bombay Artwork Society’s Salon on Rampart Row.

Her creative profession, nevertheless, was short-lived. She branched out to creating illustrations for trend magazines corresponding to Vogue & Magnificence and Eve’s Weekly. She quickly give up artwork altogether, and was accused by her friends of turning “business”.

Artwork historian Dr Zehra Jumabhoy mentioned, “As the one girl within the (Bombay Progressives) Group, she is extremely vital. She left as a result of she wanted to make a dwelling; it was a alternative to enter trend after which costume design, as these would enable her to be financially impartial. Her aesthetic type didn’t have an opportunity to develop, however should you have a look at Krishen Khanna’s or V S Gaitonde’s work within the 1950s, you possibly can see the similarities Bhanu shared with them.”

In some ways, Athaiya the artist had simply discovered a special canvas for her designs. She had her workshop in Colaba, which moved to Warden Highway within the 1970s. Among the most memorable costumes in Bollywood have been her handiwork: Mumtaz’s pop orange sari in ‘Aaj kal tere mere pyaar ke charche’ from Brahmachari (1969), Vyjayanthimala’s iconic costume in Amrapali (1966), and plenty of others.

Athaiya is survived by her daughter Radhika Gupta, who describes her mom as “God gifted”. Athaiya’s ethnic data and analysis have been large, she mentioned, and recalled her mom travelling to Ajanta and Ellora to analysis Amrapali’s costumes. “I grew up watching my mom shoot off designs in actually 10 minutes. I used to be born at 7.30 within the morning, and I hear that my mom was engaged on her final sketches until 1 / 4 to 4,” Gupta mentioned.

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