Kal Penn: From Kumar to Keswani

The Hollywood actor was in Singapore recently for the premier of Bhopal: A Prayer For Rain. India Se had a tete-a-tete with him on a wide-range of topics from his acting career to his stint in President Obama’s administration

1/30/2015 4:59:54 PM
written By : Maya Tsering Bhalla Print

From the moment he walks into the room unannounced and offers a warm handshake with his lop-sided grin you know you can let your guard down – a bit. Totally devoid of starry airs, Hollywood’s best known South Asian actor Kalpen Modi, more popularly known as Kal Penn, comes across as a more cerebral but equally likeable real-life version of his famous celluloid character in Harold & Kumar.

The movie Bhopal: A Prayer For Rain is a fictionalised account of the events surrounding the world’s worst industrial disaster that took place 30 years ago in Bhopal for which there has been no closure still. He stars with Martin Sheen, Mischa Barton and Rajpal Yadav, in the role of Motwani, a character based on journalist Rajkumar Keswani. It is a heartfelt and convincing role as a smalltime gossip columnist whose character builds up to a journalist desperate to reveal the truth. 

Unusual for a Hollywood actor Penn, who has taught at Pennsylvania University, has also held senior positions in President Obama’s administration. The New Jersey-born ethnic Indian whose parents hail from Gujarat was until recently Assistant Director of the Office of Public Engagement at the White House. Hinting at a penchant for his home town, the actor, who is based in Los Angeles for his work lets on to this writer that he’s a New York man at heart.  

Looking much younger than his 37 years, Penn has a knack for making people feel at ease, a trait combined with his wide on-screen appeal that must have made him a sure bet to win over Asian hearts for Obama. Not surprisingly, he was made co-chair for Obama’s re-election campaign.

Here are some excerpts from this writer’s interview with the Hollywood actor:

India Se: What do you think about Obama’s changes to the new immigration policy and how do you think it affects Indians who want to live long-term in the US? Is it limiting in any way?

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