All in a name: How Kal Penn closely escaped becoming Kal Pacino
Amongst the most popular Indian faces in Hollywood today, Kal Penn aka Kalpen Suresh Modi is best known for his stoner comedy series Harold and Kumar.
But he is one of that rare breed - a person who worked in a stoner comedy and then went on to work with US President Barack Obama in the White House. Having done his service to his country, he was back to his first love: acting, and yes, those oft named stoner comedies.
Busy promoting his upcoming film,
, which is based on the Bhopal gas tragedy, the actor accepts that once he realises a cause is worth fighting for, he does not hold back.
For instance, in this particular film he plays a tabloid journalist who begins as yet another media hound looking for a scoop but changes midway to a man who really cares for his environment.
"Five years ago, when I first met the film's director Ravi Kumar and read the script, I realised that he was very passionate about the subject. He had met NGOs and understood the various aspects of the tragedy. He spoke so eloquently about it. Even though the film has been made on shoe-string budget, it has an international cast and it was a great experience to work in it," Penn says.
Another new experience that Penn had while working on the film was learning Hindi. "When I landed in Hyderabad for shooting, I had no idea that I was supposed to speak in Hindi. It was a big miscommunication as I was given the script in English and I though the film will be in the language too. But the entire cast helped me with it, especially Rajpal Yadav and thankfully I don't sound like an American speaking in Hindi."
However, ask him if he can carry on a conversation in Hindi and he says it will take another film to reach there. "It is very different when one speaks from a script. I would love to do another film in Hindi so that I can breach this language barrier," he says.
The man who has his got his political chops (he did work with the Obama administration for years), what does he have to say about the gas tragedy and what it means in Indian history? "The film is a fictionalised adaptation, it's not a biopic. The tragedy is about corporate greed, government corruption and the limitation of law but the film is more concerned with how characters felt and how much the people suffered. The political ramifications are there in the film but they are presented in a very fair way."
From India to his career in Hollywood… how did Kalpen Modi become Kal Penn? "Lot of actors have screen names and when I was making my CV in college, I thought that I should have a name which is cool. For the next one hour, my friends came up with bizarre options. In fact, I very closely escaped being named Kal Pacino! Finally we decided on Kal Penn and whether it was the name or a new agent I had hired then, it seems to have worked for me."
And now, last but not the least, when are we going to meet Harold and Kumar again, the famous dudes in that very famous stoner comedy? "Very soon. We are working on an animated series and it will hopefully be out next year."