Known best for playing the character of Kumar Patel in the comedy film series Harold and Kumar, Kal Penn was born to Gujarati immigrants in Montclair, New Jersey and developed a knack for performing from an early age. Instead of joining his school's soccer team, he decided to opt for the drama society. His mother, Asmita, worked at a perfume company while his father, Suresh Modi was an engineer. Both originally thought that their son, Kalpen Suresh Modi, would become either a doctor or a lawyer.


But, Kal Penn, as he is now known in acting circles, went on to attend the Fine Arts and Performing Arts Academy at Howell High School for his freshman year. He later studied film and sociology at University of California (UCLA), Los Angeles. Penn has also completed a certificate in international security from Stanford University. In 1998, he starred in his first feature film, Express: Aisle to Glory. He has since appeared in a number of movies such as American Desi, Superman Returns, Epic Movie and The Namesake. In television, he has played the role of a therapist in How I Met Your Mother and has appeared as physician Lawrence Kutner, who later commits suicide on House, Penn says that he came up with his acting name partly as a joke and to see if an anglicised name would appeal more to the industry.From 2007 onwards, Penn shifted focus from acting to politics when he became involved in Barak Obama's presidential campaign. Later in 2009 he accepted the position of associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement. At the time he stated that stories of his grand parents marching in support with Mahatma Gandhi in India had inspired him to pursue a career in politics.
His latest film, Bhopal: A Prayer For Rain, was an opportunity for Penn to connect with his Indian roots. The film depicts the 1984 Bhopal Gas Tragedy, one of the world's biggest man-made industrial disasters which left nearly 5 lakh people in the city exposed to methyl isocyanate gas and other toxic chemicals. Starting out I had the privilege of going to a public performing arts high school. I went on to study film and theater in college (along with sociology). Starting out as an actor, I went through your typical years of life as a struggling actor, and then thankfully was able to get relatively constant work slowly, over time. I really love the aspect of story-telling that allows you to reach an audience that can feel a particular emotion or experience life as characters that they otherwise might never get the chance to meet.
From acting to politics
I took a two-year sabbatical from acting to serve as President Obama's Liaison to Young Americans. I worked on both of the President's campaigns, and remain committed to the tough work he's doing on everything from economic progress to lowering the cost of education, human rights work and international diplomacy.
Indian connection
I wanted to be a part of Prayer for Rain because of the passionate way in which the director (Ravi Kumar) wrote and explained such a complex story in a very affecting way. I think it's a story that, now that we're nearing the 30 year anniversary of the Bhopal Disaster, people tend to forget, especially outside of India. But it's one that still hasn't been resolved, and I think it's an important story to tell.
My advice to aspiring actors
Work really hard, be well-informed, study and understand your craft, and never take no for an answer.




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