The name “Kumar Pallana” may not ring any bells with Joe Q. Moviegoer, but savvy film fans will recognize the quirky Indian actor from his brief but memorable roles in a handful of Wes Anderson classics, including Bottle Rocket (Kumar), Rushmore (Mr. Littlejeans), and The Royal Tenenbaums (Pagoda). When he died in 2013 at the age of 94, Pallana also left behind a career that included appearances in roughly a half dozen independent film projects based in Milwaukee. That unlikely Brew City connection to the man who once uttered the immortal phrase “Best play ever, man,” is the subject of KUMAR:MKE, a sweet, nostalgic short documentary from one of the local filmmakers who worked with Pallana, Sean Williamson.
“I wanted to make this movie so everyone could remember the time we all spent together,” Williamson tells Milwaukee Record. “We had all this footage, and all these memories, so that was something we could reconstruct.”
In classic talking-head documentary style, the film lays out how Milwaukee filmmaker Frankie Latina ran into Pallana at an IFC screening of the former’s 2009 trash classic Modus Operandi, and how that meeting soon led to the elderly actor appearing in everything from Andrew Swant and Bobby Ciraldo’s bonkers Hamlet A.D.D. to Williamson’s gritty Heavy Hands. Other Milwaukee filmmakers, including Christian Kocinski, Erik Ljung, and Heather Hass, also reminisce about Pallana, who was “up for anything” during his 2012 stay in Milwaukee.
Williamson says “it’s important to remember things, like when Kumar Pallana came to Milwaukee. (What?) So this movie is a love note to that time, and to Kumar.” We say it’s the best documentary about Kumar Pallana’s time in Milwaukee ever, man.