The Golden Lady Bhanu Athaiya – First Indian To Win An Oscar


The prestigious Oscar – the great one-of-a-kind award which is enough alone to tag a movie or an actor along! The Academy Award which haunts every actor’s and director’s dream. But if you trace the history of India in the field of Oscar, you can only find a few names. Till date, only five Indians have won an Oscar and each year when our movie gets rejected, we lament for the artistic loss. But do we care enough to celebrate the victory of those Indians who have won the Oscars? Especially, the first Indian to grab an Oscar? Well, you are about to find out about the Golden Lady Bhanu Athaiya – the first Indian to win an Oscar.

Bhanu Athaiya (Image Source)

Early Life of Bhanu Athaiya

A Maharashtrian by birth, Bhanu Athaiya was the third children of her father Annasaheb and mother Shantabai. She was born on 28th April 1929. Although her birth name was Bhanumati Annasaheb Rajopadhye, later she changed her name to Bhanu Athaiya. Bhanu’s father passed away when she was very young. Most of her childhood days were spent in Kolhapur. Inspired by her father’s art and paintings, Bhanu took an immense interest in painting as well. When she was only nine or ten years old, she started taking art classes. And that was only the beginning.

Bhanu-Athaiya – First Indian to win an Oscar (Image Source)

Artistic Journey of Athaiya – Being a Painter and a Fashion Designer

In Bhanu Athaiya’s own words,

Though I was born into an orthodox Brahmin family, where everybody studied the ancient sciences, it was my father, Anna Saheb, who broke the rules by taking up fine arts. . .  He painted portraits in oil in the academic style. When he would finish painting, he would call me to clean his brushes and palette. I loved the job and did it sincerely. Even now it is one of my fondest memories.”

Image Source

Since her early childhood days, she started taking lessons in painting, and soon she joined J. J. School of Art, Mumbai after finishing her school. Surprisingly, she graduated with a Gold medal and a fellowship.

But fine arts could not satisfy her enough. Soon, she changed her course of the path and tried her luck in fashion. Initially, she worked with a famous magazine named ‘Eve’s Weekly.’ After spending a considerable amount of time in fashion illustration section, she switched her interest in boutiques. She started designing dresses. While she was on that job, her fashion designing works attract the attention of Kamini Kaushal, and she started designing her personal wardrobe. She switched her path again to films when Bhanu designed for Kamini Kaushal for ‘Shahenshah’ and ‘Chalis baba aur Ek chor.’ And after a short while, she got her first project as a costume designer in Guru Dutt’s CID.

First Indian Woman to Win an Oscar – ‘Gandhi’ and More

After CID, she worked on many other films as well. ‘Kagaz Ka Phool,’ ‘Pyasaa,’ ‘Teesri Manzil,’ ‘Sahib Bibi Aur Golam’, etc. were some of her big breaks in the kingdom of the film industry. She also worked on ‘Waqt’ by Yash Chopra and that movie dresses made a fashion statement for the young girls afterwards – the tight fitted Kurta and Churidar.

But Bhanu Athaiya’s biggest moment of fame came when she designed dresses for movie ‘Gandhi’ in the year of 1982. According to Bhanu, it was one of the toughest projects ever. She had to capture 50 years of Gandhi’s life, and a little mistake would have caused her a great deal of damage. And this is the movie, for which she won the Oscar. Thus, she became the first Indian to win an Oscar on an international platform.

Awards and Life Afterward

After a huge ‘Gandhi’ moment, Athaiya’s work has been praised across the whole country and world. She worked for ‘Lagan,’ ‘Lekin’ etc. She won many other awards too such as ‘National Film Award for Best Costume Design,’ Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award’, etc. Currently, she is working as a fashion design consultant on a TV show named ‘Mahabharata.’

Image Source

When our film industry was a budding flower, Bhanu Athaiya fought like a queen and bagged the most prestigious awards in the whole world. Despite her conservative family background, she never stopped her journey. She is not only the first Indian to win an Oscar; she is an inspiration. More power to her!


Written By: Subharthi Bhattacharya


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