Whether it's Guide, Gandhi or Lagaan, think of any trend-setting Indian film, and chances are the costumes were designed by Bhanu Rajopadhye Athaiya. According to Richard Attenbourough, the director of the Oscar-winning film, Gandhi, it took him 17 years to set up the film, and only 15 minutes to make up his mind that Bhanu was the right person to design its costumes.
Bhanu comes from a privileged family -- her father was a man of leisure, indulging his artistic passions and interests while encouraging his large family of a wife and seven children to do the same. It was this encouragement that led Bhanu out of her sprawling house in Kolhapur to the city of Bombay [now Mumbai], in order to pursue her passion -- studying art at the JJ School of Arts. "Travelling to Bombay was very exciting for me. It had been a dream for a long time, and I felt like it was finally happening. I made the journey with my art teacher from Kolhapur, who had convinced my mother to send me," recounts Bhanu.
Her customers included actresses Kamini Kaushal and Nargis, who would eventually introduce her to films and costume design. Soon filmmakers like B R Chopra and Yash Chopra started frequenting the store, and Bhanu found herself at a fork in the road. She could choose to continue fashion design or move to costume design. The lure of a wider scope and more exciting work made the choice for her, and she became a full-time costume designer.
In a tete-a-tete with Insiyah Vahanvaty, Bhanu talks about the films she has designed for, how Gandhi happened, and what it means to be a woman in a man's world.
Tell us about the crowning glory of your career -- the film Gandhi -- that fetched you the Oscar award.
By the time Gandhi came about, I was already well-established and successful in my country [India]. But when Richard Attenbourough visited India, he knew that nobody but an Indian would be able to design the costumes, because of our country's complexities. He held auditions for costume designers, and I was asked to go there as well. Within 15 minutes, the director told his crew that he had found his designer! As for the Oscar...it was not something that had crossed my mind. I mean, I was in Bombay, LA was so far away why dream of such unlikely things? And I had won awards here.
But when I returned after winning the award, people here would ask me, "Madam, why did you win the award? Everything in the film looks so normal," whereas a more knowledgeable designer from the West said to me, "We all think India comes ready -- all you have to do is point your camera and shoot. But my compliments to you, because the film covers a span of 50 years. That's not easy to do."
Full report here Rediff News