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Oscars, New York Times honour Bhanu Athaiya

Read in: Hindi

The late costume designer and actor Irrfan Khan's names were featured in the In Memoriam segment of the Academy Awards.

Sonal Pandya

Ahead of her birth anniversary on 28 April, costume designer Bhanu Athaiya was honoured by both The New York Times and the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (AMPAS).

Bhanu Athaiya (1929-2020): A titan among costume designers

Athaiya, who died on 15 October 2020 after a prolonged illness, was selected for The Times’ Overlooked series, wherein those personalities whose deaths’ had been missed by the newspaper were honoured eventually. In 2018, The New York Times had selected Madhubala for Women’s Day.

Written by Anita Gates, Athaiya's obituary begins by noting her historic Oscar win. She was the first Indian to win an Oscar — she shared the win for Best Costume Design with John Mollo — and at the time film critic and author Rex Reed had said of her win, "For what? Wrinkled sheets, burlap sacks and loincloths?" But Richard Attenborough's Gandhi (1981) ended up winning eight Oscars, including Best Picture.

The obituary tracks her incredible career working with filmmakers like Raj Khosla, Guru Dutt, Raj Kapoor, Vijay Anand, Yash Chopra, and Ashutosh Gowariker. Gates noted, “She considered herself a director’s designer. She was disdainful of stars who tried to dictate costume decisions and of designers who put their own fame above a film’s quality.”

Athaiya, who never had to knock on doors, loved her movie career because it allowed her to create designs for both period pictures and contemporary stories. Her most iconic outfits include Sridevi's pristine white outfits in Chopra's Chandni (1989), Vyjayanthimala’s sleeveless choli with a pleated sari bottom which became known by the 1966 film's title, Amrapali, and Mumtaz’s striking orange sari in Brahmachari (1968) made famous in the song ‘Aaj Kal Tere Mere Pyar Ke Charche’.

The late costume designer was one of two Indian artistes remembered in the Oscars’ In Memoriam segment on Sunday, 25 April. Athaiya and actor Irrfan Khan were the only Indians singled out for the live telecast, as other notable names like Soumitra Chatterjee, Rishi Kapoor, Shashikala and Sushant Singh Rajput were featured instead on its website.

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