Bhanu Athaiya, India’s First Oscar Winner for ‘Gandhi,’ Dies at 91

Bhanu Athaiya, the costume designer who became the first Indian to win an Oscar, for Richard Attenborough’s “Gandhi” (1982), died at her home in Mumbai Thursday after a prolonged illness. She was 91.

Athaiya was suffering from a brain tumor for the last eight years, her daughter Radhika Gupta told news agency PTI.

Athaiya was born in Kolhapur, western India, in 1929. She began her career as a fashion illustrator for magazines before she moved to designing costumes for films. She made her debut with Raj Khosla’s C.I.D. (1956) and went on to design for some of the landmark films of Indian cinema, including Guru Dutt’s “Pyaasa” (1957) and “Kaagaz Ke Phool” (1959) and Abrar Alvi’s “Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam” (1962).

She designed for more than 100 Indian films over a career spanning nearly 60 years. Her output in the 1960s included “Gunga Jumna,” “Waqt,” “Amrapali,” “Teesri Manzil” and “Milan.” In the 1970s she worked on “Johny Mera Naam,” Conrad Rooks’ “Siddhartha,” “Satyam Shivam Sundaram” and “Meera.”

She continued being associated with the best of Hindi-language cinema in the 1980s, including “Karz,” “Prem Rog” and “Ek Duje Ke Liye.” When she was hired for “Gandhi,” she was by some distance the most in-demand costume designer in India.

She won the Best Costume Design Oscar at the 1983 Academy Awards, shared with John Mollo. She was also nominated in the category at the BAFTAs.

Upon winning her Oscar (video below), Athaiya said the win was “too good to believe,” before thanking Attenborough for “focusing world attention on India.”

Her notable work following her Oscar win includes “Chandni,” “Aashiqui” and “1942: A Love Story.” For the Oscar-nominated “Lagaan: Once Upon A Time in India” (2001), Athaiya won India’s National Award for best costume design.

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