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.
An unabating artist whose creative expression was unfazed by the trials and tribulations he faced, A.A. Raiba (b. 1922) was relentless; almost restless in his artistic pursuits till the very end saying, “Itni Umar Gayi, Kam khatam nahi Hua".  His visual narrative was derived from his love for Urdu poetry and Islamic Literature. Born in Mumbai, most of Raiba’s works exude nostalgia and are intimate observations of old Bombay and his travels all over the country. Raiba’s oeuvre is rooted in intensively researched history with influences from his lifelong practice in Calligraphy.
A ray of light enters Lajmi’s room and falls on a half-painted canvas. The artist’s room is dipped in evening hues as twilight knocks on the door. Brushes stacked in paint holders stand in awe-filled unison like silent spectators as unsuspecting Lajmi continues to paint into the night. Seated on a wooden chair propped up on two cushions, Lajmi’s creative spirit knows no rest. Lalitha Lajmi’s nocturnal artmaking which was first born out of necessity is now a habit she has woven into her creative process.
This particular work, titled WOUNDS-104, being a very explicit depiction of Hore’s 'Wounds' gives one an insight into the artistic process.The work’s base layer is an etching dated in Bengali as 1972. There is a faint signature to the left that reads SO(mnath), followed by an eight in Bengali. Hence this piece seems to have been worked on by the artist for over a decade- the 70s and 80s, suggesting that masterpieces are indeed not made overnight.
Somnath Hore was not one to paint the blue of the skies, the glitter of the sands, or the green of the whispering trees, but the helplessness of the trembling hand attached to an emaciated body collapsed on the floor. In Somnath’s vision, it is the spectacle of man’s suffering that steals the show.
Ebrahim Alkazi and his wife Roshen Padamsee were significantly responsible for promoting many members of the Progressive Artists' Group not only in India but also at an international level. Apart from Alzaki; Mulkraj Anand, Walter Langhammer, Emmanuel Schlesinger, Rudi Von Leyden, and Kekoo Gandhy were also active as collectors.
Ash’s experiments in art from the 1950s are characterised as avatars; primitive artworks depicting personality traits. His paintings comprise a technique composed of a scientific arrangement of colour dots, almost pointillist. His works are impeccable character studies. Listed below are Ash's avatars up for auction and an attempt to decode the same with reference to their titles.
Sometime in the middle of December, in 1949, I met Prodosh Dasgupta, Prankrishna Pal, and Rathin Mitra at the Calcutta Photo Society at 157B, Dharamtolla Street. Prodosh happened to be a previous acquaintance. The other two gentlemen, however, I met for the first time. “Why, we’ve been looking for you. There’s something we would like to discuss,” they said.
Art Rebel Centre, founded in 1933, was formed and led by Gobardhan Ash, Abani Sen, Annada Dey, and Bhola Chatterjee. Subsequently, some of those invited to submit their work in exhibitions accepted membership. These include Lalit Chandra, Haridas Ganguly, Samar Dey, Amar Dasgupta, Sachin Das, Kalikinkar Ghoshdastidar, Khagen Roy, and Suren Dey, among others. Manoj Bose and Rabi Bose became members too, despite not providing paintings for exhibitions. The following is a brief history of how Art Rebel Centre came to be.
[The present article by the veteran artist Gobardhan Ash, stands testament to two of the pioneering ventures, in recent years, at creating a cumulative creative space for young artists of this country ━ both of which he had been a part of. Mr. Ash was subsequently involved with the Calcutta Group as well.]
Each time young Homi Wadia entered the set with his producer-director brother J.B.H. Wadia, his eyes would light up like a kid in a candy shop. His gaze was not stuck on fantastical costumes or the star-studded cast but set on the camera. This demonstrated his childhood aptitude for mechanical processes and all things technical. It was not long before he decided to dispense his studies and join his brother in the art of film making.
Wadia Movietone was established by the Wadia brothers, J.B.H. Wadia and Homi Wadia in 1933. It was one of the first studios in the 1930s to achieve success through the production of stunt films. Lal-E-Yaman was the first talkie film to be released under the banner of Wadia Movietone. Each Wadia Movietone film served a purpose and made a social statement. Be it the Fearless Nadia era that changed the portrayal of women in Indian cinema or Nav Jawan, the first Indian film without a single song. J.B.H. Wadia and Wadia Movietone constantly challenged conventional cinema in ways more than one.
A young boy's obsession with film was the cause of his secret trips to Bombay's cinematheques. Perhaps it was J.B.H. Wadia's heart thudding in anticipation that often broke the silence enveloping the dark movie theatre right before the big screen would light up. Mr. Wadia was a dedicated student of film since his high school days, growing up in an ever-present environment of cinema. Bombay's historically prominent locations dotted with stand-alone theatres were photographic landmarks etched in J.B.H's memories. These glorious theatres were not just recreational spots for the cinephile but institutions that shaped his cinematic oeuvre.
"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.
A chronicle thinker, Prabhakar Barwe is best known for his thought experiments with object-form-content interrelationships. Born in the family of sculptors, Barwe’s father, Shivram, worked in various film studios, making sculptural molds for commercial use and, significantly, his grand-uncle, Vinayak Pandurang Karmarkar, who was well known for strictly following the academic genre of realism. Barwe’s spent his initial years in the Konkan village, where he was born, and his later years in Bombay (now Mumbai) surrounded by the natural and creative atmosphere.