Aruna Vasudev conferred “Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres”
Ambassador of France to India, Alexandre Ziegler, conferred French distinction “Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres” on eminent film critic and author, Aruna Vasudev.
New Delhi, 13 August 2019
The eminent Indian film scholar, editor and painter, Ms Aruna Vasudev, who is also the vice-president of the Alliance Française de Delhi, today received the prestigious French honour of ‘Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres’ (Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters) for her outstanding contribution to cinema and the arts.
The Ambassador of France to India, H.E. Mr Alexandre Ziegler, conferred the insignia of the distinction on Ms Aruna Vasudev in a special investiture ceremony on Tuesday, 13th August 2019, at the Residence of France.
Lauding her numerous attainments, Ambassador Ziegler said: “Aruna Vasudev’s lifetime of achievements as film critic, scholar, jury, filmmaker, administrator and painter is near impossible to sum up. She has created so many events, forged so many partnerships, established so many platforms to promote Asian films across the world that she has carved a path that continues to guide the young generation today.”
Dear Aruna, Ladies & Gentlemen,
I would like to thank you for gracing this very special evening in honour of a very special friend of France. It is indeed an exceptional ceremony, for an exceptional life of accomplishment.
Dear Aruna, for you, it all started with Cinema. You embody an art that France and India have shared and will continue sharing. As you know, in French, we call it the Seventh Art. It is a domain whose creativity and passion touch the heart of millions.
Your journey started in India where, at a very early age, you discovered the power of the visual medium, from photography to the small screen.
This brought you to enrol in film studies in New York. Already showing your independence of mind, you left New York and came to the home of cinema, France. At a time when there were hardly any Indians in France, you found yourself at the Institut des hautes études cinématographiques (IDHEC), the French Institute for Advanced Film Studies. Undeterred by the lack of any knowledge of French, you found yourself in the company of the New Wave masters: Alain Resnais, Claude Chabrol, not to mention Chris Marker. The sixties in Paris was such a great place to live your dreams to the fullest! Even if this meant having to learn the meaning of the word pantoufles, not always a very useful one, I must admit.
Armed with your new skills and your courage, you moved across the world, to Germany, Sweden, the USA, the UK... But no country managed to keep you for long, for your true love was for India and France.
Thus, you found yourself again in Paris, in May ‘68, alternating between talks by Jean-Paul Sartre and practising stone-pelting, exactly where and when I will not reveal.
The early 70s brought you back to India, which was then in its own New Wave moment. Amidst interactions with the ‘men of the moment’, you went ahead and managed to find the time and the energy to complete a PhD at the Sorbonne University, with the highest honors, of course. Your research gave birth to a milestone book, “Liberty and License in Indian Cinema”, the first such book on the subject.
How can I condense such prolific and versatile decades? You wrote a lot. You edited. You translated. You interacted with so many cinematic voices.
In 1984, a lecture tour took you to Hawaii and then Hong Kong, where you were stunned to discover Asian cinema. True to your role as a pioneer, you soon convinced the Indian film festival circuit to open its screens to it.
And you launched, a couple of years later, the first edition of CINEMAYA, the magazine that spoke about Asian, African and Latin-American cinema in India. Concepts and ideas, never written anywhere before, found their place here. Because to you, dear Aruna, cinema has always been the highest form of art. As you later wrote, and I quote: “There is so much in the world that we cannot experience, countries we cannot visit, people we cannot encounter, and it is cinema that can open these worlds to us.” Naturally, CINEMAYA grew and though it does not exist today, it has done its work and achieved its mission.
You indeed looked East, Dear Aruna, but kept looking West as well.
How not to mention your friendship with Jean-Claude Carrière? It gave birth to this incredible collaboration around his magnum opus: “A la Recherche du Mahabharata: Carnets de voyages en Inde avec Peter Brook”. Not only did you suggest that the work be produced in English, but you also did the translation in one month flat; a translation so good that Mr Carrière said that his book read better in English rendition than in French.
East and West, India and France. Your involvement with Alliance Française de Delhi was a natural outcome.
For over two decades, as a member of the Governing Council and as Vice President, you took part in the evolution of such an important institution and its successes. Your contributions need no highlighting: they are there for all to see.
Your administrative role did not prevent you from exploring other philosophies, where art and life are one, such as Buddhism. Let me just mention here the creation of the Inner Path festival in Delhi in 2012.
Art and life. Indeed, if I had to sum up your journey in a nutshell, which is of course an impossible task, these two words might do it. You have been judge and jury, critic and painter, scholar and administrator. You have created so many events, you have forged so many partnerships, you have established so many platforms.
Many accolades have come your way. There is even an “Aruna Vasudev Award” for best writing on cinema. You are amongst the very few Indian women whose name shines in the Asian Women in Film digest.
Such an extraordinary journey, yet seemingly so effortless. Was it indeed so simple? Of course not. You had to face many challenges. But your faith was contagious. Many travelled with you, shaped you, stood with you, shared with you: family, friends, mentors, supporters, collaborators, team members.
And your path continues to guide the young generation today.
Because in the end, dear Aruna, you dreamt big and you went with it. You fought for a cause France holds dear: the Enlightenment. The Lumière Brothers would have been very proud of you.
This is why, dear Aruna, au nom du Ministre de la Culture, je vous fais Officier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.
Aruna Vasudev’s love story with France began as she developed her talent for cinema. Enrolling at the Institut des hautes études cinématographiques (IDHEC - Institute for Advanced Film Studies), she went on to obtain a PhD in Cinema from the University of Paris, Sorbonne. She has worked alongside such New Wave masters as Alain Resnais and Claude Chabrol.
Often referred to as the ‘mother of Asian cinema’, she launched the Asian film quarterly ‘Cinemaya’ in 1988. She also founded the internationally-renowned ‘Netpac’ 29 years ago, a worldwide organization to forward the cause of Asian films. She has also directed or produced around 20 documentaries, edited or co-edited many books, including a translation from French into English of Jean-Claude Carrière’s In Search of the Mahabharata: Notes of Travels in India with Peter Brook. Her body of work has won her several international awards, including the Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters) in 2002.
L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (the Order of Arts and Letters) is a French government distinction conferred on “persons who have distinguished themselves by their creativity in the field of art, culture and literature or for their contribution to the influence of arts in France and throughout the world.” Some noted Indian recipients of this honour in the past include Bharti Kher, Subodh Gupta, Shahrukh Khan, Pt Hariprasad Chaurasia, Aishwarya Rai, Raghu Rai, Ebrahim Alkazi, Habib Tanveer, Upamanyu Chatterjee, and Wendell Rodricks.