India's first Oscar winner Bhanu Athaiya passes away at 91
India’s first Oscar winner Bhanu Rajopadhye Athaiya, known for her costume design work in Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi (1982), passed away in her sleep in Mumbai on Thursday, her daughter Radhika Gupta told news agency PTI. She was 91. Her last rites were performed at the Chandanwadi crematorium in south Mumbai. "She passed away early this morning. 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 in a statement.
Apart from the Best Costume Design Academy Award in 1983 for Richard Attenborough's film Gandhi, Bhanu Athaiya's list of accolades also included two Best Costume Design National Awards - the 1991 film Lekin and Lagaan in 2002. Richard Attenborough in the foreword to her autobiography, The Art of Costume Design, described her as "the revered doyenne of costume designers." He wrote, "It took me 17 long years to set up Gandhi, my dream film and just 15 minutes to make up my mind that Bhanu Athaiya was the right person (for the job)."
Hailing from Kolhapur, Athaiya's career in costume design in Hindi cinema began with Guru Dutt's 1956 superhit C.I.D. She went on to become one of the most respectable names in the industry having worked in more than 100 films, which included Pyaasa, Waqt, Guide, Teesri Manzil, Brahmachari, Mera Naam Joker, Satyam Shivam Sundaram: Love Sublime, The Burning Train, Rocky, Chandni, Agneepath, 1942: A Love Story, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar and Swades.
Athaiya in her acceptance speech at the Academy Awards said, "It's too good to believe. Thank you Academy and thank you Sir Richard Attenborough for focusing world attention on India". Recalling the moment her name was announced, Athaiya stated that fellow nominees had told her that she was the favourite to win the Oscar for the Best Costume. "I was sitting in the audience with the other nominees in my category. They all told me that they did not stand a chance to win the Oscar. They told me my canvas was huge so I would definitely win the award. In my mind, I had told myself that I had done my best, that I had done justice to Gandhiji's name and the freedom movement," she said.
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