Costume designer Bhanu Athaiya, the first Indian to win an Oscar, passed away in Mumbai on Thursday aged 91, the Press Trust of India reported, citing her daughter.
Athaiya, who won an Academy Award for her work in Richard Attenborough’s 1982 epic “Gandhi”, had a prolific career in India, working on some 200 films, including Bollywood classics such as 1965’s “Guide” and 1980’s “Karz” (“Debt”).
A trained fashion illustrator, she began designing costumes for films in the 1950s, later telling the Indian Express daily that she saw her career as “a way to express myself and let my imagination soar”.
By the time Attenborough was ready to make his magnum opus, Athaiya had already made a mark in the Hindi film industry, working with some of its top stars including Hema Malini and Mumtaz.
In the foreword to her book “The Art of Costume Design”, Attenborough wrote: “It took me 17 long years to set up Gandhi, my dream film, and just 15 minutes to make up my mind that Bhanu Athaiya was the right person to create the many hundreds of Indian costumes that would be required to bring it to the screen.”
The only Indian woman to win an Oscar, she continued to work well into her seventies and was honoured with the National Film Award for her work in the 1991 mystery “Lekin…” (“But…”) and in the 2001 Oscar-nominated epic “Lagaan” (“Tax”).
Her last film was the 2004 social drama “Swades” (“Motherland”).
Recalling her Oscar win, she wrote in her book: “When they called my name, I was in a daze. I don’t even recall who handed me the award. All I managed to say was ‘This is too good to be true.'”
In 2012 she returned her trophy to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for safe-keeping.