kumar pallana: yogi til the end
posted: November 4, 2013
There is a scene in the movie The Royal Tenenbaums where, if you watch carefully, in the background you will see Kumar Pallana lift gracefully into tripod headstand. The actor was 82 when he shot the scene.
I have to admit, I had never heard of Kumar Pallana until after his death last month at age 94, but one Google search later and I was playing serious catch-up, getting lost in stories about the life of the famous yogi-turned-Hollywood-movie star.
Kumar Pallana’s entertainment career spanned almost 80 years. Born in India in 1918, he trained as an acrobat, plate-spinner and juggler, performing for communities in India and Africa before taking his act to the US in 1946. There, under the name ‘Kumar of India,’ he appeared on The Mickey Mouse Club, Captain Kangaroo and in nightclub shows across the country.
He eventually settled in Texas where he opened a yoga studio (which was, back then, quite an unconventional business choice for cowboy country) above his son’s café, The Cosmic Cup. Director Wes Anderson and actor Owen Wilson—then just fresh out of university—were regulars.
Speaking of his friendship with the Hollywood duo, in 2003 Kumar told The Believer magazine: “We became very good friends, and they told me, they said, ‘We are writing.’ They wanted to shoot the movie, the Bottle Rocket. And I didn’t pay much attention to what kind of movie it was. They go to Los Angeles and finally they come and they say, ‘Yeah, we are shooting the movie. And here is your part.’ And that’s where it started.”
After his debut in Bottle Rocket in 1996, Kumar went on to play small, memorable parts in other Wes Anderson movies including The Royal Tenenbaums and Rushmore and Steven Spielberg’s The Terminal.
In my research, I landed upon a charming video (see below) narrated by Dipak Pallana, Kumar’s son, which shows Kumar in his home and offers a small insight into his character.
“Meditation is very important because without the concentration you could not do nothing (sic),” Kumar says, as his son narrates that ritual and discipline were an essential responsibility in his father’s life—and that he made a mean chai (get this recipe and other tasty ones here).
When asked what he does every single day, Kumar holds up his mala beads and says, “That’s all I do. This.”
Every Monday he meditated for 150 minutes. He told The Believer that as he got older he chose to meditate more than practice asana. “I try to meditate more, concentrate on breathing. I do light exercise because when you are old your muscles are dead. It’s nature. Look at the tree: big tree dries out. Same thing with your muscles inside; your liver inside; your bones inside.”
Reflecting on his friend Kumar after his death, Owen Wilson told Jimmy Kimmel he was “a great guy [who] had a great life and was performing right till the very end.”
Performing to the end, yes, but always going with the flow. I think Kumar himself said it best—again, to The Believer: “…I don’t hustle and I don’t bustle. So sometimes you’re behind but that’s okay. Your peace of mind is more important. I have seen the people who hustle and bustle, and they are already gone, at a young age. They could have enjoyed life.”