Kumar Pallana, an Indian character actor with small parts in movies such as The Terminal and The Royal Tennenbaums, died suddenly Oct. 10 at the home he shared with his son in Oakland, Calif. He was 94.
“He lived life to the fullest,” said his daughter Sandhya Pallana of Dallas, who confirmed the death to the Associated Press. “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 their breakout movie Bottle Rocket, the Los Angeles Times reported. 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.
Sandhya Pallana said her father had been in good health, but collapsed while getting ready to play bridge with friends. He was making plans to travel to Dallas to see his first grandchild, whom she adopted earlier this month in India.
“They just missed each other by days,” she said.
Despite his age, Kumar Pallana seemed timeless, his daughter 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,” Sandhya Pallana said.
In August he shot a TV pilot in New York.
Kumar Pallana was born Dec. 23, 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 performing balancing acts. In 1946 he came to the U.S. as the act Kumar of India.
He took his juggling and acrobatic act to Captain Kangaroo, The Mickey Mouse Club and others.
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 told the Times in a 2004 interview.
He was the eccentric airport janitor in Spielberg’s The Terminal, starring Tom Hanks.
In 2008 Pallana told the Oakland Tribune that he entertains “to make people happy.”