Eighty-three-year-old Bhanu Athaiya who had won an Oscar for costume design in Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi (1982) in 1983, plans to return her prized statuette to the Academy Awards Guild in December this year. She says, "I plan to hand it over myself so that it stays in safe hands."
Doesn’t she want to pass on the award as a legacy to her family or the Indian government? "People may mishandle the trophy, so it’s best to return it to the academy. Many filmmakers abroad have also handed over their trophies because their families may not be able to take care of it. American costume designer Edith Head (1897-1981) returned all eight of her Academy Awards before she died."
The octogenarian, who has also penned a book, Art Of Creating Costumes, with an introduction by Attenborough, reminisces about the day she first held the Oscar trophy.
She says: "I still remember that night in Los Angeles. The other nominees (costume designers of La Traviata, Sophie's Choice, Tron, Victor/Victoria) were sitting next to me and said ‘We don’t stand a chance to win because your film’s canvas was so huge.’"
Athaiya, who dressed Ben Kingsley in Gandhi, Aamir Khan in Lagaan (2001) and Shah Rukh Khan in Swades (2004), says: "The work on Gandhi is closest to my heart. We covered a huge span of 50 years of his life. To do that, and be a part of showing his life to the world, was a high for me."
She admits that working on a film like that when there was no internet for easy references was difficult: "We showed Gandhi in South Africa as a youngster, and then during his Dandi March in India. His dressing sense had changed over the years."