Kumar Pallana: Actor who worked with Spielberg


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The Independent Online

Kumar Pallana, who died on 10 October at the age of 94, was an Indian character actor with small parts in films such as The Terminal and The Royal Tennenbaums. “He lived life to the fullest,” said his daughter Sandhya Pallana. “It was really wonderful how well he was received and how well he was liked, and that people appreciated his unique and creative style.”

Pallana was a yoga instructor living in Dallas in the mid-1990s when he met Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson, who were working on the film which established both their reputations, the comedy drama Bottle Rocket. They cast Pallana as a bumbling safe-cracker. His thick accent and diminutive stature combined to help him steal scenes and earned him parts in more films, including three more directed by Anderson and one by Steven Spielberg. He was the eccentric airport janitor in Spielberg’s The Terminal, starring Tom Hanks and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Kumar Pallana was born on 23 December 1918, in Indore in central India. His father lost his lucrative car dealership when Pallana’s brother was arrested for aiding in the fight against British colonial rule. Pallana dropped out of high school with the goal of becoming an actor, but he could not get seen at the studios in Bombay.

He trained as an acrobat and plate- spinner, touring festivals in India and Africa with his balancing acts. In 1946 he went to work in the United States as Kumar of India. He performed his juggling and acrobatic act on the children’s television series including Captain Kangaroo, The Mickey Mouse Club.

Eventually he opened a yoga studio above his son’s Cosmic Cup coffee shop in Dallas, where the chance meeting with Anderson and Wilson helped to fulfill his dream of becoming an actor. “They were nice kids,” he said in 2004. In 2008 he said in an interview that he entertained “to make people happy”. In August this year he shot a pilot television show in New York.

Despite his age, Kumar Pallana seemed timeless, his daughter Sandhya said. He loved his iPad and iPhone, and drove a Prius until just shortly before his death – “He embraced the moving and changing times of our modern age better than any 90-year-old that can be found today,” she said. Her father had been in good health, she added, but collapsed while getting ready to play bridge with friends. He had been making plans to travel to Dallas to see his first grandchild, whom Sandhya adopted earlier this month in India. “They just missed each other by days,” she said.