India’s first Oscar winner, veteran costume designer Bhanu Athaiya breathed her last on Thursday, after fighting a long battle with a brain tumour. She was 91.
Her daughter, Radhika Gupta, told the media, “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 said.
Athaiya passed away in her sleep, and was cremated at the Chandanwadi crematorium in South Mumbai yesterday.
A long, illustrious career
Kolhapur-based Athaiya started her career with Guru Dutt’s iconic film CID in 1956. Since then, she was involved in costume designing for over five decades and 100 films. She has been lauded for her work both in India and abroad. She had earlier told the Indian Express that she saw her career as "a way to express myself and let my imagination soar.”
Her notable work includes films like Agneepath, 1942:A Love Story, Lagaan, and Swades, among others.
Winning, and Returning an Oscar
Athaiya became the first Indian to win an Oscar when she won the Best Costume Design Academy Award in 1983 for Richard Attenborough's film Gandhi. Her memoir, The Art of Costume Design, speaks of the time when she was the only Indian on the set, and was asked to handle the costumes for Indian characters.
But in 2012, she returned her Oscar to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for safe-keeping, says Firstpost.
"People may mishandle the trophy, so it's best to return it to the Academy," she had told the Hindustan Times. "Many filmmakers abroad have also handed over their trophies because their families may not be able to take care of it."
Athaiya’s friends and fans from the film industry have paid their tributes to the late costume designer on social media.
Bhanuji was one of those film people who beautifully combined accurate research and cinematic flair to bring to life the director's vision.
You will be missed Bhanuji 🙏.
My heartfelt condolences to the family.
— Aamir Khan (@aamir_khan) October 15, 2020
RIP Bhanu Athaiya,
What an amazing body of work - Oscar winning costume designer for Gandhi, the inventor of the Mumtaz saree... an inspiration to so many young designers...Her legacy will live on forever. My condolences to the family. pic.twitter.com/qvRRaETfNF
— PRIYANKA (@priyankachopra) October 16, 2020
Bhanu Athiya was the First Indian to win an Oscar in 1983. Her achievements brought glory to Indian cinema and Pride to the entire Country. Was blessed to have her for our film #Prem. She will always be an inspiration to all costume designers n stylists. #RIPBhanuAthiya.
— Boney Kapoor (@BoneyKapoor) October 15, 2020
(Edited by Athira Nair)