India’s First Oscar Winner Bhanu Athaiya Passes Away at 91

Bhanu Athaiya, the first-ever Indian to win an Oscar, has passed away due to a prolonged illness at age 91.


An artist gone: Athaiya, who won an Oscar for her costume design for Richard Attenborough’s “Gandhi” in 1983, died at her home in Mumbai on Thursday, Variety reports.

  • For the past eight years, the renowned costume designer had reportedly been suffering from a brain tumor.
  • Born in Kolhapur, India in 1929, Athaiya started her career as a fashion illustrator for local magazines.
  • She made her shift to designing costumes for films via Raj Khosla’s “C.I.D.” (1956). 
  • Athaiya eventually went on to design for many of India’s iconic films, such as Guru Dutt’s “Pyaasa” (1957), “Kaagaz Ke Phool” (1959) and Abrar Alvi’s “Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam” (1962).
  • Throughout her 60 years in show business, she has designed for over 100 Indian films.
  • She has earned the reputation of India’s most in-demand costume designer when she was hired for “Gandhi.”

Making history: Athaiya, who was also nominated in the same category at the BAFTAs, shared her Oscar win with John Mollo at the 1983 Academy Awards. 

  • During her acceptance speech, Athaiya said the win was “too good to believe.”
  • She also thanked filmmaker Attenborough for “focusing world attention on India.”
  • After her win, Athaiya went on to design more costumes for other memorable films including “Chandni,” “Aashiqui” and “1942: A Love Story.” 
  • Athaiya also won India’s National Award for costume design for the Oscar-nominated “Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India” in 2001.
  • “Lagaan” actor and producer Aamir Khan remembered Athaiya’s talent via a tweet.
  • “Bhanuji was one of those film people who beautifully combined accurate research and cinematic flair to bring to life the director’s vision,” he wrote.

Feature Image via Oscars

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