Athaiya completed her graduation from the JJ. School of Art, Bombay, with a gold medal and was nominated as a member of the influential Progressive Art Group. After freelancing as a fashion illustrator for women's magazines such as "Eve's Weekly" and "Fashion & Beauty", Bhanu Athaiya began to design costumes for films. Athaiya made significant contribution in one of her earliest successes, Shri 420, where she designed for Nadira with a figure-hugging gown in the song “Mud mud ke na dekh.” The song went on to become an incredible hit and celebrated Nadira as Hindi cinema's leading seductress. It was Athaiya who offered the actress Sadhana a tight-fitting salwar-kameez, setting a fashion style that lasted until 1970s.
Early life of Bhanu Athaiya
Bhanu was born in a Brahmin family in Kolhapur, Maharashtra to father Annasaheb and Shantabai Rajopadhye. Her father was a self-taught artists and photographer who worked in films during British India. Bhanu was 11 when her father died and her mother took the entire responsibility of eight children. At that time Bhanu was studying at the Sir J J School of Art in Mumbai, where she won the Usha Deshmukh Gold medal in 1951 for the artwork titled 'Lady In Repose.”
Career of Bhanu Athaiya as an Artist
Bhanu initially started her career as an artist in the then Bombay, now Mumbai while she was still a student. Eventually Bhanu became a member of the Progressive Artists' Group and exhibited with them. Two of her art works were included in the 1953 Progressive Artists' Group show in Bombay. As an artist, Bhanu is often considered contemporaries to famous artists like M. F. Husain, F. N. Souza and Vasudeo S. Gaitonde.
As an artist, Bhanu landed the opportunity to freelance as a fashion illustrator for women's magazines such as "Eve's Weekly" and "Fashion & Beauty". Later the editor of the Eve's Weekly magazine opened a boutique, Bhanu was asked to try designing dresses. This was when Bhanu discovered her flair for designing clothes and pivoted her career as a fashion designer.
Career of Bhanu Athaiya as a Costume Designer
Bhanu started her costume designing career with Guru Dutt's films like C.I.D. (1956) and Pyasa (1957). She soon became a part of the Guru Dutt team. Athaiya was known for paying meticulous attention to the character she was dressing and the historical setting of the film. This accounts for the significant approval she has won for such period dramas as “Reshma Aur Shera,” “Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam” and “Gandhi.” Her costumes for Gulzar in “Lekin” won Athaiya the National Film Award for Best Costume Designer in 1990.
Athaiya's recent successes include Jabbar Patel's docu-drama Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar and Aamir Khan's Lagaan, a period drama that won her another National Award. Athaiya has also done costumes for several television serials and plays. Bhanu Athaiya achieved a milestone in her career with Richard Attenborough's film “Gandhi.” Filmmaker Richard Attenborough was making a movie on a complex concept for which he needed someone with a complete knowledge about India. Bhanu was the choice for costume designing and she did complete justice to the job.
Awards won by Bhanu Athaiya
1951 Usha Deshmukh Gold Medal - JJ School of Art
1983 (55th) Academy Award for Best Costume Design
1991 (38th) National Film Award for Best Costume Design
2002 (49th) National Film Award for Best Costume Design
2009 (54th) Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award
2013 (4th) Laadli Lifetime Achievement Award
Personal life of Bhanu Athaiya
Bhanu married lyricist and poet Satyendra Athaiya in the 1950s. The couple was blessed with a daughter Radhika. In 2012, Bhanu was diagnosed with a brain tumor which lead to paralysis on one side of her body. Bhanu Athaiya was bed-ridden for three years before her death on October 15, 2020, in Mumbai at the age of 91.