'New designers need to learn a lot'

Experience speaks

She is in her eighties. Yet when one talks to her, one senses the enthusiasm of a 20-year-old.

Dynamic  : Bhanu Athaiya

Renowned costume designer Bhanu Athaiya was the first Indian to win the Academy Award in 1983 for her work in ‘Gandhi’. And when one chats with her, one realises why she was one of the chosen few to have been awarded the Oscar.

From Guru Dutt, Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand, Shammi Kapoor to Aamir and Shah Rukh Khan, Bhanu has worked with the big stars of all generations. However, she finds the films of today very different. “Earlier, the stories had more substance. Now the focus is only on entertainment,” she tells Metrolife. 

Over the years, very few Indians have been able to impress the West and win an Oscar. Is there any particular reason why Indian films have failed to garner the attention of the West? She answers, “In India, films are made for the Indian audiences. They naturally don’t cater to the Western scenario. It was only after Lagaan that one could sense the appreciation of the West for Indian films. Though the film didn’t win the Oscar, it was highly appreciated.” She adds, “It actually started with ‘Gandhi’. That was when an Indian story got noticed all over the world.”

Bhanu still remembers every moment of the day she won the Oscar. “It was a magical experience. It’s a dream for any designer to be able to get noticed and that’s exactly what happened with ‘Gandhi’ for me,” she exclaims.

Even at this age, Bhanu continues to dazzle everyone with her talent. She is currently looking at three scripts. Ask her about the secret behind her energy and she says, “Work is my passion. I have done theatre productions, calendars and my book has also been out for a year now. But when it comes to scripts, I look for stories with substance. I am not interested in doing only one pretty costume or design for one song. I look at scripts in which I can show my understanding of culture.”

Her advice to new designers is also the same. “I feel they need to learn a lot. Unless they understand culture, they can’t progress. When I design, I cater to all the characters in a movie unlike the designers of today. An example of this are my designs for Lagaan,” she notes. “Today a lot of fashion institutes have come up in the country. But if someone actually wants to compete in the industry, they need to explore culture. There is no other way,” she advises.

Bhanu has always followed the Oscars. So which film or actor is she rooting for this time? “I think the silent movie will win a lot of awards,” she says referring to ‘The Artist’.  
Recalling the time she had come to the City to shoot for a film with Hollywood star Rex Harrison, she says, “I have happy memories of the Garden City. We shot at the palace and some lovely locales in the City.”

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