Kal Penn: From Stoner to Gogol in The Namesake

Kumar’s never had it easy. First, it took him a whole night to get to a White Castle. Then people made fun of his name.

Officer Palumbo: What kind of name is that anyhow? Kumar? What is that five o’s or two u’s?

Kumar: No, it’s actually one “u”

Officer Palumbo: Yeah… bullshit.

Now Kumar, oops, I mean Kal Penn, is back.

In a role that will show his versatility & range, Penn will be playing Gogol Ganguli, “an Indian-American who struggles with his funny-sounding name and relationship with his immigrant parents.”

The film “The Namesake” is based on a novel of the same name and written by Pulitzer Prize-winner Jhumpa Lahiri. The novel chronicles the life of an awkward Indian-American who, despite being successful, never quite fits in and struggles with his heritage throughout his life.

Penn is no stranger to this struggle. According to his Yahoo! Movies bio:

With a resume full of high school productions and community theater, he began the arduous process of submitting head shots and going on auditions. The response to his efforts, however, was tepid. Recognizing the problem, his agent persuaded him to Anglicize his name — originally Kalpen Modi — which Penn thought wouldn’t make a difference. For the hell of it, he split his first name in two, added an ‘N’ to the second part and resubmitted his headshots. Auditions went up by 50 percent.

Penn almost didn’t get the role of Gogol Ganguli too. Mira Nair, the Oscar-nominated Indian director behind “The Namesake” originally considered giving the role to an Indian-born actor.

In an ironic turn of events, the character of Kumar is what landed him this role. Nair’s 15-year old son, a big fan of “Harold and Kumar”, convinced her to cast Penn. But to Nair’s credit:

…Nair admitted Penn’s shared background with Gogol, not just her son’s pestering, helped cinch the part for him. “Gogol is an American, really,” she said. “It is best that he be played by someone authentic, born and raised in New York or New Jersey, like Kal.”

It looks like things are finally easing up for Penn. Hopefully this will be the last cab driver, 7-11 clerk or medical student with an incoherent accent that he’ll have to play.

Oh, but don’t worry, Penn hasn’t forgotten his roots:

He’s currently in Shreveport, La,. filming the sequel to “Harold and Kumar,” in which the duo attempts to take their misadventures to the promised land of pot — Amsterdam.

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I'm an idealistic realist, humanistic technologist & constant student. And what, you want to Internet-stalk me too? Why, sure.
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