Kumar Pallana, actor, performer, acrobat, yogi and all around cool guy passed away on Thursday at the age of 94. Pallana, born in Indore in 1918, immigrated to the US in the 1940s (after stints of performing across India and Africa) and began his American acting career in the 50s. As a trained acrobat, he took a tour around the vaudeville circuit as Kumar of India, performing daring stunts like spinning plates, swallowing swords and balancing in headstand on a chair balancing on bottles. (He eventually got to perform on “Captain Kangaroo” and “The Mickey Mouse Club” as a plate spinner and juggler).
He can be seen in movies by Steven Spielberg (see “Terminal”), but Pallana may be most notably recognized for popping up in a series of Wes Anderson films like “Bottle Rocket,” “Rushmore,” “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “The Darjeeling Limited.”
“He had a certain wise serenity and tremendous charisma,” Mr. Anderson told the NYTimes on Monday. “But he was also inclined to do rope tricks and laugh wildly, hysterically, at extreme length. And like everybody else, we just loved him instantly. We had never met anyone even remotely like him in any respect.”
Before all this though, Kumar Pallana was a yoga teacher. After his vaudeville days, Pallana settled down in Dallas, Texas and started a yoga studio, even if it was “cowboy country.” He taught yoga on the second floor of his son’s coffee shop Cosmic Cup where they sold spiritual books and served health food to the BBQ lovin’ Texans. “Texas is called cowboy country. Nobody knew what yoga and yogurt were, at least 30 years ago,” Mr. Pallana told American newspaper India Abroad in 2004.
Even after becoming a movie star, Pallana remained true to his yoga and meditation practice.
“Without the concentration you cannot do nothing. My soul is my guru; my experience is my guru,” he told Dark Rye magazine earlier this year.
We love how this paragraph from that same article which handsomely captures the serene essence of Kumar Pallana:
Every morning, Kumar Pallana wakes up, goes to the bathroom, makes a cup of chai and counts his japa mala until he reaches a state of ajapajapam. Having led a storied life as a celebrated plate spinner and juggler, an acrobat, a yoga instructor and a movie star, none of these roles are as truly Kumar Pallana as the Kumar Pallana, who vanishes in the ritualistic discipline of making the perfect cup of chai.
Along with this short and sweet video narrated by his son Dipak:
Mr. Pallana, we loved watching you on screen. It may be time for a Wes Anderson marathon.
These images of Kumar Pallana doing yoga are from his website kumarpallana.me.
Here’s Kumar juggling at Park Cities Yoga in Dallas in February, earlier this year.
…And because all this time you’ve making chai ALL WRONG…learn from the best.