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French honour for Soumitra Chatterjee

Soumitra Chatterjee receiving the Legion of Honour from French Ambassador Alexandre Ziegler.  

A little hesitantly he moved a step or two forward after receiving the coveted Legion of Honour, the highest civilian award in France, cleared his throat and spoke for a little over two minutes.

“I don’t know what to say… I am honoured… I am privileged,” he said with tiny pauses between sentences. Thespian Soumitra Chatterjee’s voice was mildly stirring as he spoke at the investiture ceremony where Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur or the Knight of the Legion of Honour, the award instituted in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte, was handed over to him by the French Ambassador on Tuesday.

Mr. Chatterjee said he would remember the evening as long as he lives.

“This honour simply overwhelmed me. I don’t know what I have done to deserve this, but I pledge to enhance the award as much as could,” he said. Interestingly, he did not mention Satyajit Ray, who hand-picked him for the third part of the Apu Trilogy, Apur Sansar.

French Ambassador in India Alexandre Ziegler began his presentation, connecting Tuesday night’s event with one held 29 years ago. “[It was the] second of February, 1989, on this day, during his visit to Kolkata, President of the French Republic François Mitterrand conferred the Order of the Legion of Honour on legendary Indian film-maker Satyajit Ray. In a few minutes, I will have the immense privilege to confer the same distinction on the maestro’s actor – a man who has himself become a legend – Soumitra Chatterjee,” Mr. Ziegler said.

As the Ambassador moved forward to present the award, another man sitting in one of the corner seats stood up perhaps to get a better view. He was Sandip Ray, a film-maker and Ray’s son. He was in the audience when his father received the award three decades ago. “The last time the function was held in the lawn of the National Library and the place was so very interesting ... quite more open… and those days February used to be still cold in Calcutta,” Mr. Ray reminisced.

“But I am emotional today as much as I was in February 1989. He [Soumitra Chatterjee] should have had this honour earlier, but I am happy he finally got it as he is an immensely popular actor not only in the country but in Europe and France too,” Mr. Ray told The Hindu.

The evening eventually drew to a close. The light on the Ash Carbon projector through which Apur Sansar was first screened in 1959 — a key souvenir of Mr. Chatterjee’s career, spanning over five decades, however, was kept on pretty late into the night.

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Printable version | May 15, 2021 2:17:18 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/french-honour-for-soumitra-chatterjee/article22612632.ece

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