Soham Paul - Child Activist

Soham Paul, the small framed guy in his early twenties with a boy next door look, has been silently doing some exceptional work at Muktakash with the street children of North Kolkata off Vivekananda Road, for last two and half years now.

Pujo brings unlimited joy for all - new makeover & dresses, pandal hopping, eating out, and many more for the youth in Kolkata and rightfully so & Soham is no exception,like all other Kolkatans he also loves to enjoy every bit of the Pujo, but his enjoyment has crossed beyond self centricity. For last few Pujos, Soham celebrates the festive days with Manisha, Samir, Gudiya, Papu, Sonali and other children of his dream initiative Muktakash, ensuring new dresses & accessories, guided pandal hopping, street food treats for all of them during Pujo.

This year the Pujo celebration was even more special for these children, the festivity started with a colourful cultural program at Ram Mohan Library hall on the day of Mahalaya and came to a full circle with a grand Bijoya Shammilani feast post Pujo.

Soham thus resembles the human face of Kolkata Pujo in celebrating the greatest festivity of Kolkata with the underprivileged children and Asian Paints Sharad Shamman humbly salutes the caring spirit of today’s youth in the City of Joy. See less

Sirshendu Mukhopadhyay - Novelist & an Iconic Literary Person

For the Kolkatans & Bengalis around the world, Pujo Sankhya (Pujo editions of Magazines) have been one of the star attractions during Pujo. Land mark novels, short stories and poems by Sunil Gangopadhyay to Satyajit Ray and many more, published in these Puja Magazines have enriched Bengali literature over the decades.

One such living legend of Bengali literature is Sirshendu Mukhopadhyay, whose fluidic write ups still mesmerise readers across generations. A thorough gentleman as he is, Sirshendu passes on the credit entirely on his readers for his unbelievable popularity through last six decades, ‘’I draw inspiration from my readers, specially the younger generation, that keep me going even today’’.

His much acclaimed novel 'Ghunpoka' was also published in a Puja edition of ‘Desh’, a popular Bengali magazine. Sirshendu weaves a magic realism in almost all his novels for the younger minds. Interestingly his most popular novels like ‘Nabiganjer Doitya’, 'Sadhu Babar Lathi', 'Gosain Baganer Bhoot', 'Chhayamoy' and 'Patalghar' were all published in Puja edition magazines only. A Sahitya Academy Awardee, Shirshendu gifted us another magical world of Durga Pujo in his novel 'Hirer Angti', which prompted Rituparno Ghosh to come up with his debut movie by the same name.

Sirshendu Mukhopadhyay graced the panel of judges for Asian Paints Shamman twice in the last decade. With the millions of his fans, Asian Paints Sharad Shamman wishes him a healthy & a long life and awaiting many more years of happy writing. See less

Dr Sugata Dasgupta, In Charge –CCU, R.G. Kar Medical College & Hospital

‘’We celebrated Durga Pujo in our house at Kapasdanga-Hooghly, waiting eagerly for those five days of Pujo. It was truly a magic realism with the gathering of all our family members & friends. The smell of new dresses, beats of dhak, bhog, rehearsals for cultural programs & plays - Pujo was always larger than life a charm for me’’, says Dr Sugata Dasgupta, who has been happily spending most of the Pujo days at the 7th floor of CCU at RG Kar Hospital ever since he took charge of the critical care unit there in 2011.

Contrary to the popular belief that during the festive days there would be dearth of adequate services, especially in a Govt Hospital, doctors like Sugata Dasgupta are determined to extend care & support to critical patients silently all through the Pujo days when the city is busy celebrating its largest festival.

Among many such cases, Sugata remembers how he, along with his team, handled the case of a young lady Swapna, who was admitted with severe autoimmune disorder on the Saptami morning in 2014. The entire unit worked day night through the Pujo days & beyond to bring her back from the jaws of death over three weeks time.

The city can break free to celebrate every bit of it’s festivity knowing fully well that there are such self less souls to fall back on during any medical exigency, especially if it’s a critical one. Asian Paints Sharad Shamman takes pride to acknowledge the silent contributions of such medical practitioners like Dr Sugata Dasgupta, who can ensure that hope for life shouldn’t come to pause even on festive days. See less

Iyakub Chitrakar & Family - Poto Chitrakar, Pingla

Naya, a small village of Pingla in West Midnapore district, is the habitat of 70 odd families whose livelihood runs through age old colourful folk art of Poto Chitra & Poter Gaan. The Poto Chitra themes & songs range from traditional mythological tales and tribal rituals to modern Indian history and contemporary issues. Iyakub Chitrakar is one such leading Patua from Pingla who is 4th generation Patua & successfully could disseminate the art through his next generations as well.

Iyakub has been enriching the artistry of Durga Pujo not only in Kolkata but across India with his colourful & effortless nuances of Poto Chitra works over the last two decades. This year too his artistic brilliance was exhibited in three pujo pandals in Kolkata & one in Siliguri.

Being a follower of Islam, Iyakub composes Poto Chitra of Gazi Baba, Satya Pir, Manik Pir or Bono Bibi and with equal élan he comes up with his compositions on Mansamangal or Chandimangal & sings out:

‘’Durge Durge Tara go maa dukhho binashini, Durjoye Dokhikhine naam Nagendra Nandini‘’.

His works have taken him places including international art & craft festivals at the Nehru Centre, London and all major cities of India.

It is people like Iyakub Chitrakar who make art travel beyond the boundaries of time, geography, society & religion. Asian Paints Sharad Shamman feels humbled to pay tribute to the traditional Patuas of Bengal. See less

Dr Saptarshi Basu - Pujo Organizer

Despite his busy & highly demanding schedule as a Medical Practitioner, Intensivist & In Charge, CCU – Institute of Neuro Sciences, Kolkata, Dr Saptarshi Basu manages both ends happily & successfully during Pujo. This year, one of the visitors suffered a cardiac attack in the Pandal during Aarati, Dr Saptarshi’s professional skills as a Intensivist came handy to revive her from a near fatal consequence.

Durga Pujo holds a very special place in Dr Saptarshi's life because it was the Pujo pandal where he first met his life partner, RJ Sree. Again back in 2010, he was instrumental in hosting the legendary climax shoot of the Sujoy Ghosh’s master thriller 'Kahaani' around their Pujo pandal.

Pujo is such a larger than life event for Dr Saptarshi that he says, 'I will not think twice to refuse even an all paid world trip during Pujo'. As an Organizer of an immensely popular Durga Pujo committee, the pandal becomes his second home during the festive days.

Yes, Pujo is so very special to thousands of Organizers like Dr. Saptarshi Basu, Asian Paints Sharad Shamman is indebted to such indomitably passionate souls who make the greatest festival of Kolkata delectable to the world. See less

Pinaki Ray - Chef de Cuisine, Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

Chef Pinaki Ray is a diehard Kolkatan by heart and like every other Kolkatan, he too is obsessed with pujo. An ex Xaverian & graduate from The IHM Taratola-Kolkata, Pinaki has been staying abroad due to his professional demands for over a decade & half now. Staying away from his home town, more so during Pujo, always used to pinch him somewhere deep in his heart. But ever since he settled down in Singapore in 2003, it became a ritual for him to be a part the Pujo celebrations in the Bengali Associations Singapore.

Despite being an extremely busy & reputed Chef in the best of hospitality chains, Pinaki has been religiously spearheading the team in preparing the Pujo Bhog for about thousand odd people attending the Pujo for years together at Singapore Bengali Association now. “I have been doing it purely out of my passion & love for Pujo & I enjoy every bit of it, I manage my roster at the hotel well in advance to keep myself free for Astami & Nabami. I miss Kolkata Pujo badly but the irresistible aroma of khichuri Bhog compensates the feeling of not being there physically to a large extent’’, Chef admits it candidly.

They say, the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach & when it comes to Durga Pujo Bhog nothing can beat it. Pinaki thus truly represents thousands & thousands of those people who despite staying away from the City of Joy for ages carry the spirit of Kolkata Pujo wherever they go. See less

China Pal - Artisan, Kumortuli

‘I love to create Debi Pratimas & my love for my job has intensified over the years’, says China Pal, a woman artisan from Kumortuli – the Land of God Makers in the City of Joy.

China Pal, aged 45, invokes life in her idol creations with simplicity and perfection. Talking about her childhood days, she recalls how the regular visits to her father’s studio got her intrigued towards the art of creating idols. Though initially her father, Hemanta Kumar Pal, was apprehensive of her taking up this profession, he changed his mind when he saw the first durga idol created by China Pal at a tender age of 22. And since then there has been no looking back. Orders for idols have just kept pouring in.

Making traditional Pratimas with Daaker Saaj is China’s forte. Her job has won several accolades including awards from The Governor and the Government of WB.

Round the clock demand for idols during the festive days hardly allows her to spend time with her family. ‘’Almost every year I manage to take out time for a short trip with my mother after the Jagadhatri Pujo that helps me to rejuvenate for the coming days’’, says the ‘Dashabujha lady’ - yes that’s what she is fondly called in Kumortuli. See less

Toton Das - Traditional Dhak Player

Banschator, a remote village of Murshidabad, where Toton stays has nothing very exceptional to mention about except the fact that about 70 odd families in his village have dhaks in their houses and the male members go out & play dhak in Pujo & other rituals. Dhak runs in his family as well and Toton is the 4th generation to try hands on dhak.

‘’ First time I came to Kolkata to play dhak during Durga puja was in the year 2003 & I remember for a 5 day assignment we were paid Rs. 3000/- ‘’ Toton recollects.

Toton struck gold in 2008 when he was spotted by the maestros of Indian Music in a competition of Dhaks during Pujo and regular guidance by his guru & noted musician Mallar Ghosh sharpened his skills with the sticks & the drums.

Today Toton is one of the most sought after Dhakis in Kolkata Pujo and his skill sets have taken him to all over India as a key rhythm player in his Guruji’s band. But he has seen days when he was literary thrown out along with his dhak from a crowded passenger train while coming to Kolkata. Today he's a popular face, people make space for him but still he wants his feet to be grounded. Toton wants to travel the world with his dhak one day & we at Asian Paints Sharad Shamman are sure that he‘ll make it sooner than later. See less