Actor Kumar Pallana, best known for his roles in Wes Anderson's films, died yesterday at the age of 94. Pallana was a memorable presence in nearly all of Anderson's films, starting with his debut "Bottle Rocket" and continuing in "Rushmore," "The Royal Tenenbaums" and "Darjeeling Limited." He also played an Indian emigre janitor in "The Terminal," starring Tom Hanks.
Critic Matt Zoller Seitz, author of the just released "The Wes Anderson Collection," paid tribute to Pallana over at RogerEbert.com, writing about how Anderson and Owen, Luke and Andrew Wilson first met Pallana when they were all living in Dallas in the early 90s. Seitz wrote:
Pallana was recently cast in "Snap Shot," directed by Frankie Latina, which is filming now. Other credits include John Turturro's "Romance & Cigarettes" and the TV movie "Nevermind Nirvana," directed by David Schwimmer. As a child, Pallana performed around the world with his juggling and balancing act. He also appeared on early television shows such as "Captain Kangaroo" and "The Mickey Mouse Club."
(Owen) Wilson and Anderson wrote Kumar the safecracker in "Bottle Rocket" for Kumar specifically. The project started out as a black-and-white independent film that was supposed to be shot piecemeal over a period of months, but after James L. Brooks and Columbia Pictures took an interest in Anderson and the Wilsons, it ended up being completely reshot in color, with a budget and with James Caan in a supporting role. It launched the movie careers of a number of people, including Anderson, the Wilsons, local musician and actor Robert Musgrave, and Pallana.
I had a few conversations with Kumar when I lived in Dallas -- it was sort of a precondition of living in certain Dallas neighborhoods; that's how much of a local character he was -- and he always impressed me as charming and centered, a man of substance.
"I frankly don't know how his plate-spinning or rope-trick skills compared to other professional magicians," Wes Anderson wrote to me earlier today. "I never met any. But there is no question in my mind: Kumar was the gentlest, wisest, most cheerful and entertaining man I ever had the good fortune to know."
Anderson and Wilson wrote roles for Pallana that showcased his charisma and physical control. He even let Pallana do a handstand in the background of a shot in "The Royal Tenenbaums." Pallana was 82 at the time.