Soumitra Chatterjee becomes the first Bengali actor bestowed with the Legion d'honneur

Only a few select individuals have got this prestigious honour, including Bollywood stars Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan.

Bengal found its composite of tall, lanky frame and good acting, long before Amitabh Bachchan arrived in Bollywood. When he made his debut in Satyajit Ray’s Apur Sansar, Soumitra Chatterjee became the representation of the thinking ‘hero’ overnight. His director’s reputation and their frequent collaborations helped cement the legend about the actor.

Chatterjee, 83, never a believer in ‘awards’ was visibly overwhelmed when he became the first Bengali actor to be bestowed with Legion d’honneur by French ambassador Alexandra Zeigler.

With a career spanning close to six decades later, he is still going strong with multiple theatre commitments, and the odd film in a year. Chatterjee is associated with the best of Bengali cinema – whether it is his films with Ray, Tapan Sinha or even Mrinal Sen during the early parts of his career.

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The ceremony took place in a city hotel with Chatterjee’s whole family present at the venue. “Usually, he is indifferent to awards. But this event is special for the whole family,” his wife Deepa Chatterjee was quoted.

The actor, humbled by the honour, spoke about his French connection. As a student of literature, he spoke about how French literature and impressionist paintings strengthened his love for cinema, and the visual arts. “I am honoured and privileged and I will remember this evening as long as I live,” Chatterjee said in his acceptance speech.

Before Soumitra Chatterjee, only a few select individuals have got this prestigious honour, including Bollywood stars Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan. Satyajit Ray and Pandit Ravi Shankar were given this honour before the turn of the millennium. While economist Amartya Sen and educationist Bikash Chandra Sanyal are also the only academics on the list.

The event honouring Chatterjee was attended by many of his colleagues from the Bengali film industry, including Sandip Ray, Mamata Shankar, Rituparna Sengupta and director Shiboprasad Mukhopadhyay.

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