Discovering layers, Bhanu Athaiya

"I wish my mother had seen all this because it was something that was just after her heart," said Radhika Gupta, the daughter of the Oscar-winning costume designer and artist Bhanu Athaiya. Talking about the documentation of her mother's antique textile collection recently consigned to Prinseps, Radhika Gupta dotes over her mother's inherited legacy.  

Walking down memory lane, Radhika Gupta reveals her mother's varied influences during her childhood. Her creative household and surroundings in Kolhapur, then known as 'Kalapur' nurtured her artistic sensibilities, weaving a strong foundation for her cinematic and creative endeavours. "She grew up in a very artistic household. Her father was into most of the creative arts. The grounding started from there. She absorbed a lot from her surroundings." Guptaji further reveals how her home in Kolhapur was an artistic hub for various painters to interact with during the weekend. 

"She gobbled up whatever material her father fed her. Be it books or cinema." 

The Athaiya household would constantly buzz with creative energy. This atmosphere combined with Bhanu's insatiable curiosity fuelled her artistic oeuvre. And it was not long before she chose cinema over art after being the first and only woman in India's most radical art movement called the Progressive Artists' Group. After the great master, M.V. Dhurandhar spotted her artistic talent, he suggested Bhanu Athaiya's mother enroll her in Mumbai's JJ College. Soon enough Bhanu was ready to embark on her creative voyage. She lodged with Hima Devi, whose mother was an Assistant Editor at a magazine called Fashion and Beauty. Bhanu soon got a job as a fashion illustrator where she flourished. Her illustrations in Eve's Weekly took the world by storm. "She took all the traditional Indian motifs and adapted them to a changing India," said Radhika Gupta.

Soon enough, personalities like Kamini Kaushal wanted these designs. So they approached the editor of Eve's Weekly and soon after that Bhanu opened up her boutique often frequented by Yash Chopra and other film personalities. She was soon offered her first film by B.R. Chopra - this is how she started her cinematic journey in costume designing. 

HH Radhikaraje Gaekwad who beautifully documented and researched Bhanu Athaiya's antique textile collection said, "Documenting Bhanuji's textile collection was like coming home. Because it shared quality, provenance, colours, and motifs with the textiles we possess in our Royal Gaekwad Collection." 

"Apart from being a rich representation of the traditional Maharashtrian upper society of that era, this antique textile collection is an example of a legacy taken forward with references from her beautifully enriched childhood very visible in her work." 

Click here to watch the in-depth panel discussion, "Discovering layers, Bhanu Athaiya." A conversation on the personal and artistic oeuvre of the inimitable artist and costume designer Bhanu Athaiya. The talk is fuelled by eminent personalities like Ms. Radhika Gupta, daughter of Bhanu Athaiya, HH Maharani Radhikaraje Gaikwad Baroda, Heritage Custodian, and Patron, Ms. Deepthi Sasidharan, Director EKA Archiving and Ms. Deepshikha Kalsi, Founder Textile Conservation Studio. The discussion further includes the importance and challenges while housing and preserving textiles with the need to document and showcase them.

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