R.I.P. Kumar Pallana (1918-2013) aka Mr. Pagoda In 'The Royal Tenebaums' & Mr. Little Jeans In 'Rushmore'

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by Kevin Jagernauth
October 11, 2013 9:07 AM
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"Wes Anderson starts coming because we have the chess night," Kumar Pallana told The Believer in 2003. about meeting the director in his Texas coffee shop Cosmic Cup. "On Tuesday or Wednesday we have the jazz music. All the musicians I know, I see practicing at home, I say, 'Why don’t you come and practice with us? Let the people know that you are making a noise.' Then we had people like you, the storytellers. They bring their own group, four or five friends. They both came, Owen [Wilson] and Wes. They just finished college, the both of them. They heard that this is the place, every night something different. Wes used to come up and take a lot of pictures. Small camera, you know. And he became a really good friend. We all are, all the [Wilson] brothers."

It's that little connection that brought lifelong entertainer Kumar Pallana back into the spotlight late in life, but sadly, the charming, humorous and graceful man has passed away at 94 years old. While many know him for his small but memorable appearances in "Bottle Rocket," "Rushmore" and "The Royal Tenenbaums," for Pallana those were just a few gigs in a fascinating life probably worthy of a movie itself. The India-born Pallana traveled the world, and was known for decades as Kumar Of India, who wowed audiences with plate-spinning, balancing acts, swordplay and more, appearing on a wide range of shows including "Captain Kangaroo" and "The Mickey Mouse Club."

After settling in Dallas and opening a small store, it was Anderson and the Wilson brothers who rediscovered Pallana and found a place for his unique presence in their films. "We play cards and all the bridge and poker and everything. We became very good friends, and they told me, they said, 'We are writing,' " Kumar told The Believer about how he got into their films. "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." And those small roles certainly brought Pallana attention as he was recruited by other filmmakers for their movies including Steven Spielberg ("The Terminal"), John Turturro ("Romance & Cigarettes") and Brad Siberling ("10 Items Or Less"). 

Pallana led a life that was quietly extraordinary, and seemed to carry that with him in his very stature, a quality Anderson savvily realized. When Royal Tenenbaum says that Mr. Pagoda saved his life in Calcutta, it takes one look at Pallana to believe every word. [AV Club]

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1 Comment

  • RP | October 11, 2013 10:02 AMReply

    He's great in Bottle Rocket too.

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