Veteran Bengali actor Soumitra Chatterjee received the highest French civilian award, the Legion of Honour, in a ceremony in Kolkata on Tuesday. The insignia of Knight of the Legion of Honour (Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur) was conferred on the actor by Alexandre Ziegler, France’s Ambassador to India.
Acclaimed filmmaker and Chatterjee’s mentor Satyajit Ray had received this honour in 1987 from Francois Mitterrand, the President of France at the time. “It is a great privilege for me to witness this,” Ray’s son Sandip told The Indian Express about Chatterjee’s felicitation. “It is a great feeling. Finally, a cycle has been completed after about 30 years.”
Ziegler said France has a lot of love for 83-year-old Chatterjee. “It is an honour and privilege to confer on you the highest French civilian award,” the ambassador said at the ceremony. “You are the most famous and respected Bengali actor in the world. You along with Satyajit Ray are the greatest actor-director duo of the world. France loves you as much as you love France. ”
Chatterjee said he felt honoured, privileged and overwhelmed to receive the award. “I don’t know what to say. All I can say is that I am honoured and privileged and this particular evening is so overwhelming,” he said. “As long as I live I will remember this evening and carry this honour in my heart. I don’t know what I have done to deserve this but I will honour it throughout my life and I pledge to do as much as I can to enhance it.”
In a career spanning almost six decades, Chatterjee has acted in more than 200 films. He debuted with Ray’s Apur Sansar (1959) and went on to work with the director in 14 films, including Charulata (1964), Aranyer Din Ratri (1969) and Sonar Kella (1974). His other notable credits include Akash Kusum (1965), Kshudhita Pashan (1960), Jhinder Bandi (1961), Parineeta (1969), Sansar Simante (1975) and Ganadevata (1978).
Chatterjee has received the Padma Bhushan by the Government of India as well as the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, India’s highest award in cinema. He has also been given the Commandeur de l’ Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, France’s highest award for artistes.
Actors Amitabh Bachchan and Shahrukh Khan have also been conferred the Legion of Honour, in 2007 and 2014 respectively, joining a league of eminent Indians that includes Amartya Sen, Ravi Shankar, Zubin Mehta, Lata Mangeshkar, JRD Tata and Ratan Tata among others.