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Bhanu Athaiya returns her Gandhi Oscar statuette to the Academy

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MUMBAI: Alarmed by the theft of Rabindranath Tagore‘s Nobel medal recently, Mumbai-based Bhanu Athaiya, who won best costume design for Richard Attenborough‘s multiple award-winning Gandhi at the 55th Annual Academy Awards in 1983, has returned the same to the Academy.

Said Athaiya in a statement, "I do not trust anyone in India to keep the statuette. If Rabindranath Tagore‘s Nobel medal could be stolen from Shantiniketan, what is the guarantee my trophy would be safe? In India, no one values such things, and we lack a tradition of maintaining our heritage and things pertaining to our culture. In the past, many Oscar winners have returned their trophies for safekeeping with the Academy such as eight-time Oscar-winning costume designer Edith Head, among others."

In addition to her Oscar, Athaiya has also donated some papers and photographs related to her work for Gandhi. These include newspaper articles and a 1983 telegram from Attenborough sent to Athaiya congratulating her on her nomination.

The costume designer was slated to travel to L.A. in 2013 and personally hand over the trophy to the Academy. But in June this year, she was diagnosed with a life-threatening brain tumor leading her to hand over her Oscar earlier.

The Academy made arrangements for the Oscar to be collected last week from Athaiya‘s Mumbai workshop. Said AMPAS assistant general counsel and MD of administration Scott Miller, "The Academy is honoured to receive back your statuette. As you mentioned, we were donated Edith Head‘s Oscars [along with Head‘s career papers and drawings, which are part of the collections at the Academy‘s Margaret Herrick Library].

Many other artistes have also donated their statuettes and personal papers to the Academy for their perpetual safekeeping and public education. And those statuettes are always treated and displayed with dignity at the Academy‘s exhibitions and galleries. Also, we are in the process of creating the finest motion picture museum in the world and I‘m certain Athaiya‘s statuette will find a place in it."

As one of India‘s most acclaimed costume designers, Athaiya has worked on more than 100 films including classics like Guide, Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam, Pyaasa and India‘s 2001 foreign film Oscar nominee Lagaan.

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