Bhanu Athaiya, the costume designer who made history by winning India’s first Academy Award in 1983 for her work on Gandhi, died in her sleep on Thursday, her daughter has said. The designer, who had been bedridden for the last three years, was 91.
“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,” her daughter, Radhika Gupta was quoted as saying.
Sad to hear Bhanu Athaiya, Oscar winning costume designer for Gandhi, no more. Also, invented ‘Mumtaz saree' (w/ readymade pleats & zipper) that became a rage after the song 'Aaj kal tere mere pyar ke charche har zuban par' in the Shammi Kapoor starrer Brahmachari.
— Mayank Shekhar (@mayankw14) October 15, 2020
“She will be itching to finally dress the actual stars up above,” her daughter reportedly told a BBC journalist.
A lovely tribute to Bhanu Athaiya, India’s first Oscar winner, who died today. “She will be itching to finally dress the actual stars up above,” her daughter told @shaluyadavbbc. https://t.co/Q0Nexa2lZO
— Rajini Vaidyanathan (@BBCRajiniV) October 15, 2020
Athaiya leaves behind a long and successful career, having started out as a young costume designer on Guru Dutt’s hit film C.I.D., and going on to win an Oscar along with John Mollo for their work on Richard Attenborough’s famous Mahatma Gandhi biopic.
In the last five decades, Athaiya has been an important part of at least one hundred films, and has been the recipient of two National Awards — one for the Gulzar mystery film, “Lekin”, and another for her work on 2001’s Oscar-nominated film, Lagaan.
Sad to hear of the passing of dear Bhanu Athaiya, winner of the first individual Oscar in India
— Sidharth Bhatia (@bombaywallah) October 15, 2020
Some of the most memorable films she has worked on in Hindi cinema include Guide, Pyasaa, Sahib Biwi Aur Gulam, Agneepath, and 1942 — A Love Story. In 2010, she even authored her own book, “The Art of Costume Design”.
India's first Oscar winner, costume designer @BhanuAthaiya has passed away at the age of 91. Having worked in over 100 films, since the 1950s, her eye for detail left a lasting imprint on the aesthetics of the Indian Film Industry.
We offer our deepest condolences to her family. pic.twitter.com/3n7SIebVgI
— All India Mahila Congress (@MahilaCongress) October 15, 2020
In the years since Athaiya won her Oscar, several Indians have received Academy Awards including Resul Pokutty and A R Rahman. But Athaiya remains the only Indian woman to have won the honour. She returned her trophy to the Academy “for safekeeping” in 2012, however, after doctors found a tumour in her brain.
India’s first #AcademyAward winner, Bhanu Athaiya, has passed away. She was 91, and leaves behind a legacy of Indian costume design. Her last films were #AamirKhan’s Lagaan and #ShahRukhKhan’s Swades. pic.twitter.com/64dcCbqCcZ
— namrata zakaria (@namratazakaria) October 15, 2020
In her memoir, she recalled minutes before the big Oscar moment.
I was seated along with the other four nominees in my category for La Traviata, Victor/Victoria, Sophie’s Choice and Tron. All said that they didn’t stand a chance and that the Oscar would be mine because my canvas was so huge: Bhanu Athaiya in her memoirs. #BhanuAthaiya pic.twitter.com/JHnAGvyEMu
— Soutik Biswas (@soutikBBC) October 15, 2020
Tributes kept pouring in as news of her death made headlines.
From CID to Guide to Gandhi to Lagaan, what a journey!
— Siddharth (@RJSIDDHARTH) October 15, 2020
Heartfelt condolences on the demise of renowned costume designer, an icon and Oscar award winner #BhanuAthaiya Ji.
This is a huge loss for the Indian film industry. My thoughts and prayers are with the bereaved family.
— Shivraj Singh Chouhan (@ChouhanShivraj) October 15, 2020
— tariq siddiqui (@tariqsiddiqui18) October 15, 2020
According to a report in scroll.in, Athaiya even had a short stint as a Modernist painter in the 50s, after training at Mumbai’s JJ School of Art, under the guidance of Padma Shri V S Gaitonde. Athaiya’s last rites ceremony was held in South Mumbai on Thursday. But her memory is sure to be kept alive through her incredible body of work.