Bhanu Athaiya

Costume designer, Bhanu Athaiya, who was the first Indian to win an Oscar, died on October 15 at the age of 91. Some of her best known works include Amrapali (1966), Brahmachari (1968), Guide (1965), Lagaan (2001), Swades (2004) and Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi (1983), for which she jointly won the Academy Award for Best Costume Design with British designer John Mollo. Designer Manish Malhotra looks back at some of her most iconic costumes and how they’ve influenced him:

“Bhanuji’s work was inspirational and I admired it so much. She made the Amrapali costume for Vijayantimala in the film Amrapali very, very popular. The costumes in that film, the color combinations, the fit – it was all so very beautiful. In one song, Vijayantimala is wearing just a soft pink top and an Amrapali bottom with delicate pearl jewelry. There’s also that red costume she’s wearing in another song.

Bhanu Athaiya
Vijayantimala in Amrapali.

In Brahmachari, all of Mumtaz’s hit songs had her wearing the colour orange. In the song ‘Aaj Kal Tere Mere’, she’s wearing a three-layered completely body-hugging stitched saree. That was the 1960s and stitched sarees are so popular even today.

Bhanu Athaiya
Mumtaz in Brahmachari.

Her work in Raj Kapoor’s films has always been just fabulous. You see her work in Reshma aur Shera (1971), the color combinations of her work in the films she did with Mumtaz, her work in Guide (1965). She kept that elegance and that beauty and that fashion. 

Bhanu Athaiya
Dev Anand and Waheeda Rehman in Guide.

Just this morning Rekhaji was telling me how Bhanuji was was somebody who understood textiles so well. I remember I was shopping for fabrics for Madhuri Dixit in Kala Niketan (in Mumbai) for Dil Toh Pagal Hai (1997) and I went up to Bhanuji and said, ‘I’ve never met you, but I’ve always admired you. I’m doing Dil Toh Pagal Hai for Yash Chopra and he remembers you so fondly.’ When I celebrated 100 years of Indian cinema during the Lakme fashion week, I invited Bhanuji to walk the ramp with me, Asha Bhosleji, Rekhaji and Priyanka Chopra.

Bhanu Athaiya
Bhanu Athaiya’s work in Gandhi.

Her work is just as iconic as the films she’s done. There is Gandhi (1982) and then she went on to do Lagaan, but it’s all her glamour work of the 60s and 70s that was so inspiring to me, from the color combinations to the fit.”

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