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Remembering Bhanu Athaiya, India’s first Oscar winner5 min read

October 17, 2020 3 min read

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Remembering Bhanu Athaiya, India’s first Oscar winner5 min read

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Bhanu Athaiya, the Oscar winning costume designer, succumbed to her illness at her residence in Mumbai on October 15th.
Join Owliver in remembering this legend.

How do you remember characters from a movie? Do their clothes play a part in that memory? Well, Batman would not be Batman without his cape much like Aladdin would not be Aladdin without his brown cap!
Costumes play a massive role in how movies are remembered.
And Bhanu Athaiya is etched in the memory of cinema goers through her amazing work across a hundred films and five decades.

Sourced from The Hindu

Banu Athaiya was a costume designer and an artist who contributed fifty years (1950s to 2000s) of her life to bringing characters to life by making them dress the part! Her designs played an instrumental role in shaping the Hindi film industry right from the time of Raj Kapoor to that of Shahrukh Khan.

In 1983, Athaiya won an Oscar in the category ‘Best Costume Design’ for her work in Sir Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi. She was the first Indian to receive an Oscar! Watch the moment, here.


Sourced from Indian Express.

The movie traces Gandhi’s journey from a barrister to a political ascetic (Have you read Owliver’s piece on Gandhi, yet?). In the movie, the role of Mahatma Gandhi was played by the British actor, Sir Ben Kingsley. Apart from the massive task of dressing Kingsley as Gandhi, Athaiya also took over the responsibility for costumes for all the Indian characters. Attenborough attributed the accuracy of the period clothes worn by thousands of characters in the movie across time to her keen eye.

For this project, Athaiya had to shift from the glitz and glamour of the Hindi film industry to the realism needed for a biopic. She recalls in her memoir, The Art of Costume Design,


“I worked day and night, like a person possessed, to meet the deadline. I would comb the museums and libraries in Delhi to gather all my reference material.” 

Sourced from Scroll

Later in 2001, Athaiya met such a massive project again as part of Ashutosh Gowariker’s Lagaan, set in rural India of a pre-Independence era. From cricket costumes to evening gowns, village dresses to British uniforms-she did it all!

Prayer by Banu Athaiya.

Before reaching the film industry and the Oscar stage, she dreamt of becoming an artist. She joined JJ School of Art, Mumbai, in 1952. She was the only woman to have contributed to a major exhibition in Mumbai in 1953!
However, her desire to stand on her own feet directed her towards the practical option of fashion design. In 1953, she was designing clothes for stars like Nargis and Nadira. 

Athaiya had seen the industry move from black and white to color; from single screen to multiplexes; from extravagance to a developing acceptance for simplicity. She contributed to all of it. Her legacy lives on in every character she brought to life with her art, the art of costume design.

So, next time you watch a movie, think about the work that goes in making your favourite characters look the way they do.
And give a moment’s thought to the legendary Bhanu Athaiya.

Sourced from Scroll.