Ambassador Ziegler’s visit to Kolkata

H.E. Mr Alexandre Ziegler, Ambassador of France to India inaugurated the International Kolkata Book Fair 2018 – Focal Theme Country: France along with Ms Mamata Banerjee, Hon’ble Chief Minister of West Bengal and conferred French honour on legendary actor Soumitra Chatterjee.

Kolkata, 30 January 2018

H.E. Mr Alexandre Ziegler, Ambassador of France to India, was in Kolkata to jointly inaugurate with Ms Mamata Banerjee, Hon’ble Chief Minister of West Bengal, the 42nd International Kolkata Book Fair (IKBF). France has been invited as its Focal Theme Country by the Publishers and Booksellers Guild.

On this special visit to the city, Ambassador Ziegler was privileged to confer the insignia of Knight of the Legion of Honour (Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur), the highest French civilian distinction, on eminent actor Soumitra Chatterjee at an investiture ceremony in the evening.

France being chosen as the theme country of IKBF (31st January – 11th February 2018) coincides with the 70th year of the Indo-French diplomatic relationship and the ongoing third edition of Bonjour India 2017-2018, a platform for creativity, innovation and partnership. Ambassador Ziegler and the Hon’ble Chief Minister thus viewed The Experience: a Journey with France, the immersive multimedia French pavilion at the Book Fair presenting the depth and diversity of the abiding Indo-French ties. Ms Annie Terrier, distinguished literary curator of the French presence at IKBF, as well as official French invitees, renowned author Léonora Miano, and prominent philosopher Barbara Cassin, were present at the inauguration.

France will also be at the heart of the 5th edition of the Kolkata Literature Festival 2018, an integral part of IKBF, which will be held from 8th to 10th February. Director of the famous Book Festival of Aix-en-Provence, Annie Terrier, has conceived a powerful literary programme revisiting its Sounds of the World (les Bruits du Monde) programme for book-loving Indian audiences. It will feature interactions between French and Indian authors across the city for 10 days to explore the place of literature in a world transformed by social tensions caused by immigration and terrorist threats and question whether it can engender a universal discourse of rights, founded on human conscience.
The experts and writers will include well-known figures such as Philippe Forest, Christian Garçin, Katia Légeret, Gérard Meudal, Sébastien Ortiz, Jean-Claude Perrier, Antoine Volodine, Shumona Sinha, Sabine Wespieser.

This initiative is supported by Publishers and Booksellers Guild, the International Kolkata Book Fair, Kolkata Literature Festival / Ecritures croisées (spearheaded by Ms Annie Terrier).

Speaking on the occasion, Ambassador Alexandre Ziegler said, “France is deeply honoured to be invited for the third time as the focal theme country of the world’s most widely visited book fair. I invite everyone to visit our interactive and innovative pavilion, ‘The Experience: a Journey with France’, which narrates our rich, shared history, our present relations, and those that we will forge together with India for future generations. Being at IKBF as part of the collaborative and creative Bonjour India platform, I cannot enough stress the role of Literature in raising awareness about all the urgent issues of our world, and look forward to deepening our partnership in vibrant Bengal, especially involving its dynamic youth.”

France at IKBF

The ties between the Kolkata Book Fair and France are enduring and steeped in history. France is the only country in the Fair’s four decades of history to be participating for the third time as the Partner Country. In 1997, when the Kolkata Book Fair became truly International and decided to invite a foreign country for the first time as its focal theme, it chose France. It was then inaugurated by no other than Jacques Derrida. In 2005, the Fair was inaugurated by the famous French writer Daniel Pennac.

Legion d’Honneur (“the Legion of Honour”)

The Legion d’Honneur (“the Legion of Honour”), instituted in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte, is the highest civilian award given by the French Republic for outstanding service to France, regardless of the nationality of the recipients. The President of the French Republic is the Grand Master of the Order of the Legion of Honour.

Speech by the Ambassador of France to India, H.E. Mr Alexandre Ziegler during the conferral of Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur on Soumitra Chatterjee

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to be in Kolkata today to celebrate the friendship between France and India, and more especially Bengal, a region so culturally rich and the country’s cultural hub. I am delighted and privileged to be here with you on this exceptional occasion.

It will soon be thirty years since 2nd February 1989, when, during his visit to Calcutta, the then President of the French Republic, François Mitterrand, conferred the distinction of the Order of the Legion of Honour on legendary Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray. In a few minutes, I will have the privilege of conferring this distinction on the direct heir of this great Bengali maestro, who has himself become a cinematic legend, Soumitra Chatterjee.

Dear Soumitra Chatterjee,

I would not presume to discourse on you before your Indian friends and fans. I could just put it all in a nutshell and say that you are the most famous and respected Bengali actor.

Holding a Master’s in Literature from the University of Calcutta, you started your career as an actor in 1959 with The World of Apu, playing the unforgettable role of an unemployed graduate with dreams of being a writer, who marries reluctantly, experiences both unexpected love and brutal bereavement, and finally returns from his wanderings to poignantly befriend his rejected son.
With this masterpiece of Satyajit Ray, began a collaboration with your mentor and friend that would last till his passing in 1992.

Your association is reminiscent of the greatest “director-actor” duos of cinema, like those formed by Jean-Pierre Léaud and François Truffaut or Marcello Mastroianni and Federico Fellini.

You are the emblematic actor of Satyajit Ray films. You have acted in fourteen of his films, several of which are legendary among cinema lovers all over the world, such as Charulata, Ashani Sanket (pronunciation: Ôshoni Shonkett), and Ghare Baire (pronunciation: Ghôré Baïré).

Your filmography includes over 210 films, which have often received both commercial success and critical acclaim. You have, of course, acted in films by other famous Indian directors, like Mrinal Sen and Tapan Sinha. You have also been the on-screen personification of Feluda, the popular private investigator created by Satyajit Ray in this detective novel series.

Apart from your long career as a film and television actor, you are also a man of theatre. You write and recite poetry. You paint, too. A few days ago, you turned 83, even though you look 60, and continue to exude remarkable energy and the same unflagging passion for all your many activities.

Like Satyajit Ray you are a versatile genius, and like your illustrious elders, your work embodies humanity, emotions and sensitivity that are both typically Bengali and universal.

The many Indian and international distinctions that you have received are too numerous to be listed fully, so I will mention: the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1998, the most prestigious award for artists given by the National Academy for Music, Dance and Drama; the Padma Bhushan in 2004, one of the highest distinctions conferred by the Indian government; the National Film Award for Best Actor in 2008; and the Best Actor from the Bengal Film Journalists Association Award eight times. And in 2012, you received the Indian government’s highest honour recognizing the recipient’s lifetime achievement and outstanding contribution to Indian cinema.

A great admirer of Molière, you are a true friend of France. Close to our Consulate in Kolkata and the Alliance française du Bengale for decades, you continue to be a distinguished invitee for their events.

Many retrospectives of your films have been organized in France in the past thirty years, the last being at the Cinémathèque française in end-2016.

In 1990, you acted in an Indo-French production, Shakha Proshakha (Branches of the Tree), directed by Satyajit Ray and produced by Daniel Toscan du Plantier and Gérard Depardieu. The French director, Catherine Berge, made a documentary film, Gaach (l’Arbre), in tribute to your life and art.

In 1999, you became the first Indian actor to be conferred the French distinction of Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters (Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres).

Dear Soumitra Chatterjee,

You will now receive another tribute from France, in recognition of your remarkable career, your outstanding contribution to promoting Indian cinema in France, and your longstanding affection for our country.

And now, as required by protocol, I will proceed in French:

Soumitra Chatterjee, au nom du président de la République, et en vertu des pouvoirs qui nous sont conférés, nous vous faisons chevalier de la Légion d’honneur.

About Bonjour India

The third edition of Bonjour India 2017-18 is a four-month-long mega voyage across India celebrating Indo-French partnership as well as shaping the next decade of people-to-people contacts between the two countries. From November 2017 to February 2018, Bonjour India is presenting 100 projects in 33 cities across 20 states and union territories. Bonjour India is providing a platform for enduring partnerships across the themes of Smart Citizen, High Mobility, Go Green.

Bonjour India is unprecedented given the ambitious scale of its partnership with India. People at the forefront of their fields are sharing their inspiring journeys as they change society through innovation and creativity.

At events collaboratively organised across cities and disciplines, amid performances, debates, seminars and exhibitions, all audiences will find something that captures their imagination.

With Bonjour India 2017-18, India and France are coming together to create, innovate and partner towards a progressive and sustainable future.

Bonjour India aims far, Bonjour India supports fair, Bonjour India is fun!

For further information please visit

Making this larger-than-life platform come true, are our valued partner companies. Bonjour India thanks:

  • Diamond Partners: Dassault Aviation, Reliance
  • Gold Partners: Accor, Air India, Engie, Krishnakriti, Renault, Société Générale
  • Silver Partners: Air France, Ariane Space, Axa, Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation, BNP Paribas, Faurecia, Laurent Perrier, Mane, Naval Group, NRB Bearings Limited, Pernod Ricard, Phoenix Mall, Saint Gobain, Thales, Vicat (Bharathi Cement),
  • Event Partners: Schneider Electric, Sonalika Group, Suez, Apeejay Surrendra Group, L’Oréal, Champagne Besserat de Bellefon, Grover, L’Opéra, Oberoi Group
  • Communication Partners: Foxity, JC Decaux
  • Indian Institutional Partner: Indian Council for Cultural Relations

Last modified on 02/03/2018

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