Bhanu Athaiya bagged the Best Costume Design honour for Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi at the 55th Annual Academy Awards in 1983, but the sick 86-year-old has sent her Oscar back to Los Angeles.
Athaiya insists she “does not trust anyone in India to keep it”, citing the 2004 theft of late writer/poet Rabindranath Tagore’s 1931 Nobel Prize for her decision.
A statement issued by the star reads: “I do not trust anyone in India to keep it. If Rabindranath Tagore’s Nobel medal could be stolen from (Tagore’s hometown) 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.”
Athaiya had planned to travel to L.A. in 2013 to personally hand over the trophy to the Academy, but it was instead collected from her Mumbai workshop earlier this month (Dec12) after she was diagnosed with a life-threatening brain tumour.
Replying in an email to Athaiya, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences assistant general counsel and managing director of administration Scott Miller writes, “The Academy is honored to receive back your statuette… Many other artists 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 it (Athaiya’s statuette) will find a place to be displayed there.”