India’s first Oscar winner designer Bhanu Athaiya turned 85 last month. Thirty one years ago she made the country proud by winning an Oscar for her costumes in Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi shared with British counterpart John Mollo. The year was 1983 and the venue The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles. Athaiya was the only Indian HOD on the film and the award was Bollywood was not surprised by her honour. Athaiya had been a path breaker and changed the texture of the films she worked in with her detailed, intricate and well researched costumes. She had worked with all the legends of the Black & White and Color cinema be it Guru Dutt, Raj Kapoor, BR Chopra, Yash Chopra, Lekh Tandon, Ramanand Sagar, Raj Khosla, LV Prasad, Conrad Rooks, Ashutosh Gowariker, Jabbar Patel, Vidhu Vinod Chopra.
Athaiya’s career spans over 60 years and features male and female superstars both from Black & White to Color films. It was said that she transformed actors on screen be it the beautiful Meena Kumari as chotti bahu in Saheb Biwi aur Ghulam, Vyjayantimala in Amrapali, Hema Malini in Meera or Johnny Mera Naam.When it came to her work Athaiya called the shots even with legendary filmmakers be it Raj Kapoor, Guru Dutt, Sunil Dutt or Vijay Anand and they willingly submitted to her. Two years ago in 2012 The Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences in Los Angeles held a collection of her works, donated by Athaiya including her Oscar statuette. A year ago, a selection of her costume sketches was exhibited at the East West Gallery in Honolulu as part of an exhibition celebrating 100 years of Indian cinema.
Now Athaiya’s family is keen to make available Athaiya’s various sketches, costumes, photographs diligently preserved over the decades to a museum in her memory that will archive her research for future scholars and costume designers.
Bhawana Somaaya/ Tweets @bhawana somaaya