India’s first ever Oscar winner, costume designer Bhanu Athaiya, has died at the age of 91. Athaiya, who dressed the casts of over 100 Bollywood movies and gained international acclaim for her work on the 1982 movie “Gandhi,” died in Mumbai, according to her daughter Radhika Gupta.
She was diagnosed with a brain tumor eight years ago.
Speaking to CNN, Gupta remembered her mother’s “childlike” curiosity, and said “she never felt like she knew it all.” During her healthier years she was “unstoppable,” she said.
Sunil Seth, chairman of the Fashion Design Council India said she has been a “torchbearer of design,” in a statement shared with CNN. “We, as a design fraternity, salute her excellence not just in cinema, but also in proving to the world, the huge role fashion plays to shape a personality, both on and off the screen,” he wrote.
Born in 1929 in Kolhapur, in Maharashtra state, Athaiya began designing movie costumes in the 1950s, working on a series of productions with Guru Dutt, one of the era’s most celebrated directors. She went on to collaborate with filmmakers including Raj Kapoor and Raj Khosla.
While she primarily worked on Bollywood movies, she produced costumes for director Conrad Rooks’ 1972 film “Siddartha,” an adaptation of the famed Hermann Hesse novel. But it was her work on Richard Attenborough’s “Gandhi,” a biopic based on the life of Mahatma Gandhi, that thrust her into the global spotlight.
At the 55th Academy Awards, Athaiya claimed the award for Best Costume Design (alongside her co-designer John Mollo), one of eight Oscars won by the movie that night. In her short acceptance speech, she said that the honor was “too good to believe,” before thanking Attenborough for “focusing world attention on India.”
Athaiya continued to work in the later decades of her life, receiving industry recognition for her rich visual take on 19th-century India in Ashutosh Gowariker’s critically acclaimed “Lagaan” Her work on the movie earned her Best Costume Design at India’s prestigious National Film Awards in 2002.