Bhanu Athaiya won India its first Oscar in 1983 for the film Gandhi in the Best Costume Design category. As a child, Bhanu Athaiya was surrounded by the growing surge of Indian consciousness and the influence of Gandhi. People had taken to wearing khadi clothes and Gandhi caps. This first-hand influence of Gandhi in her life was something she could not have developed with any amount of reading or research. Richard Attenborough, a foreign film director, came to India to make a film on Gandhi after 17 years of visiting the country repeatedly. He appointed Bhanu as the film's costume designer.
Following the opening of The Legacy of Bhanu Athaiya exhibit was an insightful discussion between stalwarts Ritu Kumar (Textile Historian and Fashion Designer) and Kiran Nadar (Founder and Chairperson KNMA). H.H. MAHARANI Radhika Raje Gaekwad of Baroda inaugurated the event and fondly spoke of her learnings while documenting and intensively researching the legacy of India's most globally renowned costume designer Bhanu Rajopadhye Athaiya.
The Hindi movies that I grew up watching in the ’70s, in theatres, and then in the ’50s and ’60s on Television, left lasting impressions. What attracted me most was the song & dance and the costumes worn by the stars. Many years later, I learned to my surprise that almost every look that was created for the actresses right from Waheeda ji, to Mumtaz ji to Zeenat ji – was by one person - Bhanu Athaiya!
My first encounter with Bhanu Athaiya happened when I was working on my debut film, Sawan Bhadon, released in 1970. I was playing a village belle, and Bhanuji designed my costumes in the film. How can I put it – it was perhaps predestined, that God chose an exceptional artiste like her to come into my life at that point, in 1969, when I was a naïve teenager who knew practically nothing. Bhanuji became my teacher, mentor, creative guide, and friend all rolled into one.
Actor Tanuja narrates Bhanu Athaiya's transition from art to Indian cinema while carrying her love for art on her sleeve. Lovingly addressed by Bhanu as 'Tanu', the actor reminisces about Bhanu's eagerness to delve into the actor's role before designing her costumes.
In these personal notes by Bhanu Athaiya, she fondly recalls her mother Shantabai with deep gratitude, love, and pride. She deems her mother the enabler of her success, dreams, and aspirations. Read on to know more.
Bhanu Rajopadhye Athaiya (b. 1929) was born in her 300-year-old sprawling ancestral house in the heart of Kolhapur. Bhanu grew up surrounded by indigenous and western political, social and cultural influences. Her ability to translate all this information into the medium of cinema and art made her the first Indian ever to win an Oscar. Bhanu Athaiya is not only recognised as the revered doyenne of Indian costume designers; but also a remarkable modernist artist.
In lieu of India's 75th year of Independence, Google Arts and Culture celebrated Bhanu Rajopadhye Athaiya as one of India's trail-blazing icons. She leaves behind a rich and wonderful legacy built on creativity, fortitude, and immense talent. One of the early members of the Bombay Progressives group and India's first Oscar-winning Costume Designer, Bhanu Rajopadhye had a historically important early career as an artist, exploring the possibilities of Indian Modernism with her contemporaries at the J.J. School of Art and the Progressive Artists' Group.
Bhanu Athaiya was the first woman artist to receive a gold medal from the J.J. School of Art for her work 'Lady in Repose', which was the first-ever abstract painting to be made by a member of the Progressive Artists' Group . This work which she addressed as Lying Lady in one of her handwritten letters along with The Nuns was painted as a part of her study at J.J. where Vasudeo S. Gaitonde was her mentor. In 1952, Gaitonde created the artwork 'Painting No.1' displayed at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.
"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.
Like a brocade bridge that takes you back in time, the personal textile collection of India’s most renowned costume designer Bhanu Rajopadhye Athaiya leads you deeper into both her inherited legacy and the one she herself created.
Bhanu Athaiya: The legacy of a long-hidden sun
It was D.G. Nadkarni, elder statesman among Bombay’s art critics, who first told me that Bhanu Athaiya had trained as a painter and had once shown alongside the members of the Progressive Artists' Group (PAG).
"My father, a multifaceted man, was far ahead of the times. His thirst for knowledge led him to explore avenues of learning beyond scholastic and academic boundaries. He would travel to Mumbai frequently to collect books on various subjects ranging from painting to photography and embroidery to film making. These books were imported from Britain by Englishmen who had big stores in Mumbai.
Bombay, May 2010 - "I was exposed to paintings from a very young age. My father was a self-taught artist who sometimes painted in oils by studying the old European masters and sometimes following his own inspiration. In his studio, he had many books on paintings of European masters like Leonardo Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Turner, Gainsboro, Constable, and others. I enjoyed looking at these books just as I enjoyed washing my father's brushes and pallet.
The city of Kolhapur in southern Maharashtra is often called Kalapur, a city of the arts: a tag that originated in the early twentieth century. This was a result of a social and cultural transformation initiated by Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj (1874-1922).
She was born to design! As a girl of nine years, she passed the elementary and intermediate art examinations and won a scholarship to the JJ School of Arts in Mumbai at nineteen. That is Bhanu Athaiya, India’s first Oscar-winning designer for the mega-blockbuster film, “Gandhi” by Sir Richard Attenborough in 1982.
Traversing the world of art can be a game of clue hunt. Sometimes, even if there is a lot documented about a group of artists and their works, one tends to find a thread that can become an enticing exploration in itself. A lot has been written about the Progressive Artists' Group, which was formed in India in the year 1947.