Remembering Kumar Pallana, Wes Anderson’s Muse and Filmdom's Least Competent Safecracker

Crime
A blog about murder, theft, and other wickedness.
Oct. 11 2013 11:36 AM

Remembering Kumar Pallana, Wes Anderson’s Muse and Filmdom's Least Competent Safecracker

Kumar Pallana
Actor Kumar Pallana attends the Los Angeles premiere of The Terminal.

Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

This is a bit different from my usual fare, but I thought it worth mentioning that actor Kumar Pallana has died at age 94. Born in India during the Raj, Pallana first won fame as a talented plate-spinner before settling in Austin, Texas, and working at his son's coffeehouse, the Cosmic Cup. There he met the young Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson, who attended the University of Texas; Anderson went on to cast Pallana in many of his films, including Rushmore, where he played the enthusiastic janitor Mr. Littlejeans, and The Royal Tenenbaums, where he played Gene Hackman's murderous valet, Pagoda.

But, for me, his best role was his first, as the disoriented safecracker “Kumar” in Anderson's debut film, Bottle Rocket. That film's climactic robbery goes wrong in many ways, but none funnier than Kumar's utter inability to actually crack a safe:

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Or even remember the names of his co-conspirators:

As the gang retreats, empty-handed, he is sheepish and ashamed. “I lose my touch,” he explains. “Did you ever have a touch to lose, man?” Owen Wilson’s character asks. He probably didn’t.

Pallana also appeared in other, non-Anderson films like Another Earth and Steven Spielberg's The Terminal, where he put his plate-spinning skills to good use. You can watch the great man spin a plate in the video below.

Kumar Pallana made every film he was in better. Rest in peace.

Justin Peters is a writer for Slate. He is working on a book about Aaron Swartz, copyright, and the rise of “free culture.” Email him at justintrevett@fastmail.fm.

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