India’s first Oscar-winner Bhanu Athaiya dies at 91 in Mumbai home

India’s first Oscar winner Bhanu Rajopadhye Athaiya drew her last breath on 15 October after prolonged illness in Mumbai. She had a tumor in her brain which was diagnosed eight years ago. She was bedridden since one side (of her body) got paralysed in 2016.

Bhanu’s daughter, Radhika Gupta told the media that she was suffering from a strain of pneumonia and died on Thursday morning in her sleep. She was cremated at the Chandanwadi crematorium in South Mumbai.

Hailing from Kolhapur, Athaiya came to Mumbai in 1945 and joined the Sir JJ School of Art. In the initial days of her career, she worked as a fashion illustrator for magazines later she started to design costumes for films. She began her career in Bollywood with Guru Dutt’s superhit film C.I.D. in 1956. Even after tumor diagnosis she had continued to work, she designed costumes for the Marathi film Nagrik in 2014. Her journey in the film industry spanned over 6 decades and over 100 films.

She won the Academy Award for Best Costume Design for Richard Attenborough’s film ‘Gandhi’ in 1982, along with John Mollo. In the foreword to her memoir, ‘The Art Of Costume Design’, Attenborough said, “It took me 17 years to set up his dream film ‘Gandhi’ but only 15 minutes to make up my mind that Bhanu was the right person for the costume designing.”

Apart from the Oscar, she won a BAFTA Award for Best Costume Design for the same film ‘Gandhi’. She also won the National Film Award twice, for Gulzar’s film ‘Lekin’ in 1990 and for Ashutosh Gowariker’s film ‘Lagaan’ in 2002.

In December 2012, Athaiya was in the news after she returned her Oscar statuette to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for safekeeping. She said, “I returned it willingly and it makes me happy that my Oscar has gone to the right place. It’s like a tradition. Many awardees have returned their Oscars in the past for safekeeping.”

Dharam Sikarwar
Writer, historian, and activist Dharam Sikarwar is a very active author The Youth. He writes on national and international issues, environment, politics. He is an avid book reader as well.