India`s first Oscar winner, costume designer Bhanu Athaiya, dies at 91

  • India`s first Oscar winner, costume designer Bhanu Athaiya, dies at 91

India`s first Oscar winner, costume designer Bhanu Athaiya, dies at 91

Taking to her Instagram Stories, PeeCee shared the iconic picture of Athaiya holding the Oscars and wrote, "What an fantastic body of work - Oscar winning costume designer for Gandhi, the inventor of the Mamtaz inspiration to so many young designers". Eight years ago, she was diagnosed with a tumour in her brain. She died peacefully in the city of Mumbai.

Athaiya was renowned for designing costumes for top filmmakers in a career that spanned almost five decades. "Bhanu Athiya was the First Indian to win an Oscar in 1983".

Recalling the riot scene in the film, couturier Tarun Tahiliani said: "She had a deep understanding of what India was and that's what she brought to the screen". For some time, she was the only woman costume designer in the industry. Her other popular projects include Brahmachari (1968), Guide (1965), Agneepath (1990), Lagaan (2001) and Swades (2004).

In tributes, Athaiya has been revered as a "great" of cinema fashion whose award-winning costumes "put India on the world map".

Athaiya is survived by her daughter, Radhika Gupta.

Athaiya (née Rajopadhye) was born and raised in Kolhapur. Athaiya came to Mumbai in 1945 and joined the Sir JJ School of Art. She left because she needed to make a living; it was a choice to go into fashion and then costume design, as these would allow her to be financially independent.

She began designing costumes for films in the 1950s, later telling the Indian Express daily that she saw her career as "a way to express myself and let my imagination soar". "Top stars started approaching me on their own and recommending me to filmmakers".

It was her costumes for the Gandhi biopic, however, that earned Athaiya global recognition.

In many ways, Athaiya the artist had just found a different canvas for her designs. It was just ideal and thanks to her inventive creativity, I could do that energetic song and the costume went on to set a fashion trend. "It's a personal loss for me, you inspire with your eye for details and with your ever smiling energy".

But the effort was worthwhile.

"The work on Gandhi is closest to my heart", she said. "To do that, and be a part of showing his life to the world, was a high for me".

In 2012, Athaiya returned her Oscar to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for safe keeping. "Many filmmakers overseas have also handed over their trophies because their families may not be able to take care of it". Expressing her condolence over Bhanu Athaiya's death, fashion designer Neeta Lulla said that it a great loss to their industry. While Athaiya handled all the Indian costumes for the film for every character big or small, John Mollo who shared the Oscar with her did the costumes for the British characters. Athaiya was the only Indian department head in the team.