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How Bhanu Athaiya, India's first Oscar winner, changed the landscape of costume designing in the country

How Bhanu Athaiya, India's first Oscar winner, changed the landscape of costume designing in the country
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How Bhanu Athaiya, India's first Oscar winner, changed the landscape of costume designing in the country

In 1983, when Bhanu Athaiya gained an Oscar for costume design for her work on Gandhi, not everybody in Hollywood was thrilled.

“For what? Wrinkled sheets, burlap sacks and loincloths?” movie critic and writer Rex Reed wrote.

To not point out military uniforms.

Gandhi — a three-hour saga masking greater than half a century of politics, protest and purposeful nonviolence in the life of Mahatma Gandhi (Ben Kingsley) — was something however a vogue present.

Some Indian moviegoers complained that everybody regarded so odd, from the actors — amongst them John Gielgud, Martin Sheen and the younger Candice Bergen (enjoying the American photographer Margaret Bourke-White) — to the 1000’s of extras dressed for crowd scenes.

However Athaiya knew the worth of her work.

“Richard Attenborough was making a fancy movie and wanted somebody who knew India inside out,” Athaiya informed Jap Eye, a British weekly newspaper, in an interview printed final yr. “A lot needed to be contributed, and I used to be prepared for it.”

Gandhi gained eight Oscars, together with greatest image, actor and director. And when the costume design award went to Athaiya — sharing the honour with British designer John Mollo — she grew to become the first Oscar winner in historical past from India.

Bhanumati Annasaheb Rajopadhye was born on 28 April, 1929, in Kolhapur, Maharashtra, often called a metropolis of the arts, in British India. She was the third of seven kids of Annasaheb Rajopadhye, a painter and photographer from a rich household, and Shantabai Rajopadhye. Her father died in 1940.

After finishing her formal schooling at 17, Bhanu moved to Bombay (now Mumbai) and stayed with a girl whose mom occurred to work at Eve’s Weekly, a well-liked journal.

“They noticed my sketches and will inform my hand was good,” Athaiya informed Jap Eye, including that she “had been sketching from a really younger age.”

Her work as {a magazine} illustrator led to a job at a boutique, the place she started creating her personal designs, though she had by no means attended vogue college. That introduced her to the consideration of India’s film {industry}.

“Prime stars began approaching me on their very own and recommending me to filmmakers,” she informed The Indian Specific in an interview printed final yr. In a separate interview, she summed up her profession: “I by no means needed to go knocking on doorways.”

She made her film-industry debut in Raj Khosla’s CID (1956), a black-and-white homicide drama (with musical numbers, of course), about midway by means of the golden age of Bollywood. She went on to design costumes for greater than 100 motion pictures over nearly six many years.

They included some of the greatest of Hindi movie, like Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa (1957), a couple of struggling poet and the prostitute who believes in him; Vijay Anand’s Information”(1965), about an unhappily married girl and a spiritually searching for former tour information; Ashutosh Gowariker’s Lagaan: As soon as Upon a Time in India (2001), which mixed cricket uniforms, navy uniforms and girls’s fashions of late Victorian England; and the identical director’s Swades (2004), a couple of modern-day scientist returning to his childhood village.

She thought of herself a director’s designer. She was disdainful of stars who tried to dictate costume selections and of designers who put their very own fame above a movie’s high quality.

Athaiya gained specific reward for her designs for the actress Sridevi, angelically dressed in white in Yash Chopra’s Chandni (1989); Zeenat Aman as a mentally and psychically scarred spouse in Satyam Shivam Sundaram (1978); Vyjayanthimala in the fantasy Amrapali (1966); Mumtaz, doing the twist in fancy-party scenes in Brahmachari (1968); and Waheeda Rehman, one of the designer’s favorite actresses, in Information.

She stated she cherished her film profession as a result of it allowed her to create designs for each interval photos and up to date tales.

“And it’s got a timeless life,” she informed Jap Eye, “whereas vogue will come and go.”

She married Satyendra Athaiya, a lyricist and poet, in the Fifties. (She changed her billing from Bhanumati to Mrs Bhanu Athaiya in 1959.) In accordance with The Occasions of India, he died in 2004.

India can now declare eight Academy Awards, together with two for the 2008 movie Slumdog Millionaire (rating and sound mixing), an honorary Oscar in 1992 for director Satyajit Ray and a number of other technical awards.

In 2012, after she discovered she had a mind tumour, Athaiya returned her Oscar statuette to the Academy of Movement Image Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles for safekeeping after her dying.

She died on 15 October, 2020, in Mumbai. She was 91.

Her final movie was Nagrik (2015), a thriller about casually dressed criminals. She was the writer of The Artwork of Costume Design (2010).

The Oscar was not Athaiya’s solely main prize. She gained India’s Nationwide Award for Costume Design twice, for Lekin… (1991) and for Lagaan a decade later, and the Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009.

Working in movie, Athaiya stated in an interview with The Indian Specific, “grew to become a strategy to specific myself and let my creativeness soar.”

“It was so fulfilling that I didn’t really feel the must do anything.”

Anita Gates c.2021 The New York Occasions Firm

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