Those who got here into Bhanu Athaiya’s orbit bear in mind a wildly inventive but methodic skilled, who introduced a powerful formal experience to the nonetheless nascent area of costume design in Indian movies.
From Mumtaz’s tightly draped, flaming orange sari in Brahmachari to Sridevi’s styling in Chandni, Bhanu Athaiya crafted a few of Indian cinema’s most iconic appears to be like. India’s first-ever Oscar honoree — she received the Academy Award for Best Costume Design for Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi (1982), together with John Mollo — Athaiya would depart her indelible and distinctive imprint on over 100 movies, till 2004’s Swades, her final credited film. She handed away of a protracted sickness on 16 October 2020, aged 91, at her Mumbai dwelling.
On Firstpost: Bhanu Athaiya, Oscar-winning costume designer, dies at 91
Athaiya’s collaborators and people who got here into her orbit bear in mind a wildly inventive but methodic skilled, who introduced a powerful formal experience to a nonetheless nascent area.
Fashion doyenne Ritu Kumar, as an example, credit Athaiya with being the primary to “really get into the whole business of research and making costumes for a film that were convincing and authentic; the first in her era to do such a great job”. Kumar notes the widespread assumption that costume design is about glamour and larger-than-life designs, and whereas this can be true for sure sorts of movies, one want solely see Athaiya’s work on Gandhi to see how way more there’s to it.
“You can see the design in Gandhi at three ranges — [for] the British presence in India, the liberty motion, and thirdly the abject poverty. The depiction of every required a number of analysis; the logistics have been thoughts boggling. A variety of the materials she used have been from far-flung locations in Andhra Pradesh or Dhaka. She received the costumes proper all the way down to the smallest element,” Kumar says, stating that Athaiya was working in a time when technique of communication, retail areas, sources and so on have been nowhere near being as simply accessible as they’re now. “Bhanu well deserved that Oscar,” provides Kumar. “Lots of people ask me, ‘What was in the costumes?’ That is the entire level — the authenticity and analysis.”
The Oscar marked an expert peak, however others have been quickly to comply with. Athaiya received the National Film Award twice — the primary time in 1990 for Gulzar’s Lekin, adopted by Ashutosh Gowariker’s Lagaan in 2002 — recognition of a rewarding profession that started within the ‘40s when she was a designer for Fashion & Beauty and Eve’s Weekly, earlier than transitioning to movie work with Guru Dutt’s CID in 1956.
The actors Athaiya dressed would swear by her expertise. It is claimed that Simi Garewal, who Athaiya labored with on Siddhartha (1972), really useful her title to Richard Attenborough.
Part of the Gandhi forged, Supriya Pathak recollects how Athaiya understood every character and actor within the venture. The designer was tasked with making 1000’s of costumes inside a interval of three months. Pathak would later be related to a few different initiatives that Athaiya was a part of, though these by no means took off. “She was a wonderful person… so creative,” Pathak says. “By the time I joined movies she had decreased her workload and was doing only a few initiatives, solely people who touched her coronary heart. She understood how essential snug costumes have been, so actors might carry out with ease. I at all times inform individuals round me it’s essential to grasp an actor must be snug with performing, which is one thing Bhanuji taught me.”
Anu Aggarwal recounts assembly Athaiya whereas on a modelling project in 1989, and being struck by how specific the designer was throughout fittings, how centered on each element. When Aggarwal was signed on for Aashiqui a mere six months later, director Mahesh Bhatt gave the go-ahead for her to have a designer of her selection for the movie. Athaiya fortunately consented to styling Aggarwal for her debut position.
“I learnt so much from Bhanu,” says Aggarwal, of the expertise. “She defined how 1 / 4 of an inch on the shoulder would make a distinction to the complete look. I’ve broad shoulders so she created my appears to be like in nice element to make me look the half in Aashiqui…no person else might have achieved that. She was a grasp craftswoman. I’ve labored with designers all around the world however nobody comes near her. Later in life, after I went into seclusion at an ashram, I stored a woolen scarf that she had gifted me.”
Athaiya’s work spanned generations. For occasion, she designed for Sharmila Tagore — and for her son Saif Ali Khan. With Tagore, Athaiya had a really symbiotic relationship; she was the actress’ major designer throughout her preliminary years in movies, creating her costumes for Waqt (1965) and Dastaan (1972). Later, Tagore would workforce up with designers like Mani J Rabadi and Shalini. “But Bhanu, I think, liked to dress me because I could carry off her clothes,” says Tagore.
“I loved chatting with her because she was so well informed about fashion and trends. The film industry then had a hierarchy — not democratic, like it is now — but Bhanu certainly held her own,” Tagore provides. “Bhanu was among the few designers of that time who was properly trained and held a certificate; she could contour and would draw and show us her designs, giving us options for our looks. In those days, films did not even have scripts but she would try her best according to what the director and producer had told her.”
Nearly three many years after Waqt, Athaiya would design for Saif Ali Khan, for Yash Chopra’s 1993 movie Parampara. Khan narrates assembly with Athaiya in Chopra’s workplace, as she confirmed him the outfits he was meant to put on within the movie:
“The first item was a normal blue sleeveless, V-necked sweater. Rather boring really… I looked at her, and she laughed and said, ‘Not everything I do is going to win an Oscar! This is what your role requires!’ She had a great sense of humour…”
Khan particulars how Athaiya styled Parampara, matching color schemes and types to units. “I saw a cohesive approach to costume design years and years before it became the norm,” he says, earlier than dwelling on what he feels is Athaiya’s most essential legacy. “It’s a wonderful thing when an Indian achieves international recognition of such high order. Certain projects bring talent from across the world together and to win an Oscar from among [Attenborough’s] crew must have given her great satisfaction. Her legacy is to encourage us all to work hard to make our country proud.”
Not simply actors, Athaiya was a “repeat favourite” of many filmmakers as effectively. Yash Chopra, for one, but in addition Guru Dutt and Raj Kapoor. With Kapoor, Athaiya labored on Shree 420 (1955), Sangam (1964), Mera Naam Joker (1970), Satyam Shivam Sundaram (1978), Prem Rog (1982) and Ram Teri Ganga Maili (1985).
“Bhanu was unique in her style and approach and understood the film’s requirements; whether period or modern, she adapted so beautifully,” says Randhir Kapoor of the designer’s affiliation along with his household’s RK Studios banner. “She did such wonderful work for my father’s films and went on to design for my films as well.”
Athaiya made headlines once more in December 2012 when she returned her Oscar statuette to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for safekeeping. In an interview on the time, she stated, “I have no regrets at all. I am very happy that my Oscar has gone to the right place. I have wanted this for some time. I want to thank the Academy for helping me. Many Oscar winners in the past have returned their Oscars for safe keeping. It is a tradition with the Academy.”
During the identical interview, she additionally outlined what she had been engaged on within the time since Swades: a Marathi movie by Jayprasad Desai, a mythological TV serial, and — “I am trying to put together a book on Kolhapur, my home town and trace my family roots. There is also an effort to find some good and worthy institutes and organisations that will acquire sketches and illustrations that I have made over the years [Athaiya was an alumna of the Sir JJ School of Arts].”
Athaiya’s passing marks the top of an period for costume design in Indian cinema, however her affect lives on. Actor Raveena Tandon factors to the extremely excessive requirements Athaiya set for the design and styling world, whereas designer Vikram Phadnis speaks of how a lot she epitomised ‘fashion design’ for him rising up.
“Bhanu Athaiya gave credibility to [Indian] costume design on an international platform. It’s not about winning a National Award or an Oscar; it’s about taking Indian fashion to a global stage,” Phadnis says. “Bhanu Athaiya made the fashion business credible.”
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