Mumbai, Oct 15 (PTI) A pall of gloom descended on Kolhapur, around 350 km from Mumbai, after locals heard that Bhanumati Annasaheb Rajopadhye, better known as Bhanu Athaiya, born in the temple town in 1929, had died on Thursday.
The 91-year-old, the first Indian to win an Oscar, was born into an orthodox Brahmin family and was interested in art from childhood, a trait she picked up from her father, who was the royal priest in the erstwhile princely state of Kolhapur, said Subhash Wadangekar, a family friend.
"Her mother Shantabai encouraged Bhanumati's passion for painting and after her primary education at Kolhapur, got her enrolled in Mumbais prestigious J J School of Art," Wadangekar told PTI.
Bhanumati completed most of her school education in the Private High School and the Maharani Laxmibai Girls High School in the temple town in western Maharashtra, he said.
"When she won the Oscar in 1983, both the schools held separate functions in Kolhapur and felicitated her," he said.
She won the Academy Award for Best Costume Design in Richard Attenborough's Gandhi, with Ben Kingsley as the Mahatma, along with John Mollo. The lavish biopic of Mahatma Gandhi swept the Oscars with eight awards.
"It was a thrilling experience for us as she brought the world-famous golden statuette with her and we could touch it for a moment," Wadangekar said.
A grand felicitation function was held in Kolhapur by the then civic body as well, Wadangekar added.
Bhanumati was eight years old when her father died but her mother and elder sister Ranjan ran the house, he said, adding after Ranjans marriage the Rajopadhye family shifted to Belgaum.
A road in Kolhapur is named after her father Annasaheb and is known as Rajopadhye street, said Anuradha Kadam, senior journalist from Kolhapur.
"As a child, Bhanumati acted in Marathi movie Ekadashi Mahatmya, mainly because some of the prominent directors and actors such as V Shantaram, Bhalji Pendharkar and Baburao Painter were from Kolhapur," Kadam said.
However, Bhanumati did not work in any other Marathi movie later but got associated with films later as costume designer after passing out from the J J School of Art, from where she won the gold medal during the final year, she said.
While at the J J School of Art, Bhanumati's fashion illustrations were published in a popular magazine, the family friend said.
"Actor Nargis was impressed by her designs and that was how Bhanumati got work as costume designer for Raj Kapoor's hit 1955 Hindi film Shree 420," she said.
After graduating in fine arts, Bhanumati secured her first job as a fashion illustrator in the popular magazine Eves Weekly.
She later worked for some time in a boutique as a dress designer. The boutique was a popular one, frequented by top Bollywood actresses of the time and that is how Nargis noticed her, she said.
Family friends bemoaned that though she received cinema's most coveted award, the Padma awards conferred by the Indian government eluded her.
In an illustrious career spanning over five decades, Bhanu Athaiya designed costumes for over 100 films and worked with reputed filmmakers both in India and abroad.
The costumes she designed were considered path- breaking for their times. She also authored the book The Art of Costume Design, published in 2010.