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Bhanu Athaiya
Bhanu Athaiya (nee Rajopadhye).jpg
Bhanumati Annasaheb Rajopadhye

(1929-04-28)28 April 1929
Kolhapur, Kolhapur State, British India
Died 15 October 2020(2020-10-15) (aged 91)
Education Sir Jamsetjee Jeejebhoy School of Art
Occupation Costume designer and Painter
Years active 1947–2015
Movement Bombay Progressive Artists' Group
Spouse(s) Satyendra Athaiya

Bhanu Athaiya (née Rajopadhye; 28 April 1929 – 15 October 2020) was an Indian costume designer and painter. She was the first Indian to win an Academy Award. Alongside being Bollywood's most iconic costume designer, she had a historically important early career as an artist with contemporaries like M. F. Husain, F. N. Souza and Vasudeo S. Gaitonde. She was the only woman member of the Bombay Progressive Artists' Group. Two of Bhanu Rajopadhye's artworks were included in the 1953 Progressive Artists' Group show in Bombay.

After her switch from art to cinema, Bhanu went on to become one of the leading creators of the aesthetic of a young India through her work on costumes for Bollywood films. She worked on over 100 films, with Indian filmmakers such as Guru Dutt, Yash Chopra, B.R. Chopra, Raj Kapoor, Vijay Anand, Raj Khosla, and Ashutosh Gowariker, notably in films like C.I.D. (1956), Pyaasa (1957), Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam (1962), Guide (1965), Amrapali (1966), Teesri Manzil (1966), Satyam Shivam Sundaram (1979), Razia Sultan (1983), Chandni (1989), Lekin... (1990), 1942: A Love Story (1993), Lagaan (2001), and Swades (2004). She also worked on international projects with directors such Conrad Rooks in Siddhartha (1972) and Richard Attenborough in Gandhi (1982).

For Gandhi, Bhanu won the Academy Award for Best Costume Design and was nominated for a BAFTA Award for Best Costume Design.

Early life and background

Athaiya was born in a brahmin family Kolhapur in Maharashtra of British India. She was the third of seven children born to Annasaheb and Shantabai Rajopadhye. Athaiya's father, Annasaheb was a self-taught artist and photographer who worked in the films of Baburao Painter. He died when Athaiya was 11 years old.

She studied at Sir J J School of Art, Mumbai, where she won the Usha Deshmukh Gold medal in 1951 for the artwork titled 'Lady In Repose'.

Gold Medal Awarded by JJ School of Art in 1951 - Verso
Gold Medal Awarded by JJ School of Art in 1951 - Recto


Bhanu started her career as an artist in Mumbai while still studying at JJ School of Art. Later she became a member of the Progressive Artists' Group and exhibited with them. She continued her part-time stint as a freelance fashion illustrator for women's magazine like "Eve's Weekly" and "Fashion & Beauty". while at the JJ School of Art. Later when the Eve's Weekly editor opened a boutique, she asked Athaiya to try designing dresses, hereupon she discovered her flair for designing clothes. Her success as a designer soon led to her switching career paths. Her costume designing career began by designing clothes for Guru Dutt's films, starting with C.I.D. (1956). She soon became a part of the Guru Dutt team.

She made her debut as a film costume designer with the film C.I.D. in 1956, and followed it up with other Guru Dutt films such as Pyaasa (1957), Chaudhvin Ka Chand (1960) and Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam (1962). In her career spanning 50 years she has received numerous awards. She won the Academy Award for Best Costume Design (shared with John Mollo) for her work in the 1982 film, Gandhi and became the first Indian to win an Academy Award. She also won two National Film Awards, in 1991 and 2002.

In a career spanning over 100 films, she worked with Indian filmmakers such as Guru Dutt, Yash Chopra, B.R. Chopra, Raj Kapoor, Vijay Anand, Raj Khosla, and Ashutosh Gowariker, and international directors such Conrad Rooks and Richard Attenborough.

In March 2010, Athaiya released her book The Art of Costume Design, published by Harper Collins. On 13 January 2013, Athaiya presented a copy of the book to the Dalai Lama.

On 23 February 2012, it was reported that Athaiya wished to return her Academy Award to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences because she felt that her family will not be able to take care of the trophy after her demise. On 15 December 2012, it was confirmed that the trophy had been returned to The Academy.

In April 2021, as part of the New York Times "Overlooked" series of obituaries that were not written at the time of the person's death (in this case, October 2020), Anita Gates wrote an obituary of Athaiya. In it, Athaiya is quoted about her work on Gandhi: "Richard Attenborough was making a complex film and needed someone who knew India inside out," Athaiya told Eastern Eye, a British weekly newspaper, in an interview published last year. "So much had to be contributed, and I was ready for it."

Personal life

Bhanu married a lyricist and poet, Satyendra Athaiya, in the 1950s. Subsequently in 1959, she changed her name from Bhanumati to Bhanu Athaiya. Satyendra died in 2004.

In 2012, Bhanu was diagnosed with a brain tumour, which eventually lead to her suffering paralysis on one side of the body and was bed-ridden for the last three years of her life. She died on October 15, 2020, in Mumbai at the age of 91, at a medical centre in South Mumbai. She is survived by her daughter Radhika Gupta.

Awards and nominations

Year Award Film/Artwork Result Ref.
1951 Usha Deshmukh Gold Medal - JJ School of Art Lady In Repose Won
Academy Award for Best Costume Design Gandhi Won
BAFTA Award for Best Costume Design Gandhi Nominated
National Film Award for Best Costume Design Lekin... Won
National Film Award for Best Costume Design Lagaan Won
Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award Won
Laadli Lifetime Achievement Award Won



Year Title
2015 Nagrik
2008 Phir Kabhi
2004 Swades
2001 Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India
2001 Dhyaas Parva
2000 Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar
1995 Prem
1995 The Cloud Door (Himmelspforte, Die)
1995 Oh Darling! Yeh Hai India
1993 1942: A Love Story
1993 Sahibaan
1992 Parampara
1991 Henna
1991 Ajooba
1990 Lekin...
1990 Agneepath
1989 Chandni
1988 Hero Hiralal
1987 Kaash
1986 Sultanat
1985 Ram Teri Ganga Maili
1985 Faasle
1985 Salma
1985 Yaadon Ki Kasam
1984 Tarang
1983 Razia Sultan
1983 Pukar
1982 Gandhi
1982 Prem Rog
1982 Nikaah
1981 Biwi-O-Biwi: The Fun-Film
1981 Hotel
1981 Rocky
1980 Insaaf Ka Tarazu
1980 Agreement
1980 The Burning Train
1980 Karz
1980 Abdullah
1979 Meera
1979 Mr. Natwarlal
1979 Suhaag
1979 Jaani Dushman
1978 Satyam Shivam Sundaram: Love Sublime
1978 Karmayogi
1978 Shalimar
1978 Ghar
1978 Ganga Ki Saugandh
1977 Alaap
1977 Aaina
1977 Ab Kya Hoga
1976 Udhar Ka Sindur
1976 Hera Pheri
1976 Mehbooba
1976 Nagin
1976 Aaj Ka Mahaatma
1976 Chalte Chalte
1976 Do Anjaane
1975 Aakraman
1975 Kala Sona
1975 Dharam Karam
1975 Prem Kahani
1974 Chor Machaye Shor
1974 Bidaai
1973 Dhund
1973 Aaj Ki Taaza Khabar
1973 Keemat
1973 Anamika
1973 Bandhe Haath
1972 Siddhartha
1972 Dastaan
1972 Raaste Kaa Patthar
1972 Roop Tera Mastana
1972 Apna Desh
1972 Mere Jeevan Saathi
1971 Tere Mere Sapne
1971 Pyar Ki Kahani
1971 Aap Aye Bahaar Ayee
1971 Maryada
1970 Johny Mera Naam
1970 Himmat
1970 Khilona
1970 Mera Naam Joker
1970 Maa Aur Mamta
1969 Jeene Ki Raah
1969 Intaquam
1968 Brahmachari
1967 Anita
1967 Patthar Ke Sanam
1967 Hare Kanch Ki Chooriyan
1966 Amrapali
1966 Baharen Phir Bhi Aayengi
1966 Mera Saaya
1966 Teesri Manzil
1966 Budtameez
1965 Guide
1965 Janwar
1965 Kaajal
1965 Waqt
1965 Mere Sanam
1964 Dulha Dulhan
1964 Leader
1962 Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam
1961 Ganga Jamuna
1960 Chaudhvin Ka Chand
1959 Dil Deke Dekho
1959 Kaagaz Ke Phool
1959 Kavi Kalidas
1957 Pyaasa
1956 C.I.D.

See also

  • List of Indian winners and nominees of the Academy Awards
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