The Rise of Taj
Of Gujarati Indian descendant actor Kal Penn was first propelled into American cinema popularity as Taj in National Lampoon's Van Wilder (2002) and as Kumar in Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (2004). He recently played one of Lex Luthor's henchmen in Superman Returns and returned as Taj in National Lampoon's Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj (both in 2006).
The 5' 11" tall actor, who was credited in films like American Desi (2001), Where's the Party Yaar? (2003), Malibu's Most Wanted (2003), Love Don't Cost a Thing (2003), Son of the Mask (2005) and A Lot Like Love (2005), will star in the upcoming films The Namesake, Epic Movie, Under New Management and a sequel to Harold & Kumar, Harold & Kumar Go to Amsterdam (working title). He will also appear in a recurring role as a villain in the sixth season of Fox’s award-winning series starring Kiefer Sutherland, “24.”
Childhood and Family:
First generation Indian-American in New Jersey, Kalpen Suresh Modi, who would later use the name Kal Penn to get more acting roles, was born on April 23, 1977 in Montclair, New Jersey. His father was an engineer and his mother, who has a master's in chemistry, worked as a fragrance evaluator for a perfume company. He also has one younger brother.
Kal Penn, nicknamed K-Kal, attended the Fine and Performing Arts Center at Howell High School in Farmingdale, New Jersey where he went though an intense study of the arts in acting, dance/movement, and vocal training. he later transferred to the Freehold Regional High School for Performing Arts in Englishtown where he graduated in 1995. Graduating from high school, he moved to Los Angeles to continue his studies at the University of California, where he double majored in Film and Sociology.
Kumar Go to White Castle
Stung by the acting bug when he performed in a school production of the musical “The Wiz” when he was in 8th grade, Kal Penn honed his acting talent at Howell High School, Freehold Regional High School and later at the UCLA. In 1998, he appeared in Jonathan Buss' 12-minute comedy Express: Aisle to Glory, and followed it up with the next year’s feature, the culture-clash drama Freshmen, written, directed and starred by Tom Huang.
Afterward, Penn worked mainly on television. He was spotted as a guest in such hit shows as ABC's original sitcom based on the Archie comic book series, "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch," ABC's sitcom starring Michael J. Fox "Spin City," The WB’s original cult series "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," and its spin-off, "Angel" (The WB). He also could be seen in an episode of NBC' popular medical drama "ER" and ABC's long-running cop drama "NYPD Blue."
In 2001, Penn made his first movie in the all-Indian movie American Desi, in which he played Ajay Pandya, a hip-hop-obsessed college student. He then supported Ryan Reynolds and Tara Reid in Walt Becker's romantic comedy Van Wilder (2002), playing the Indian exchange student Taj Mahal Badalandabad, and starred as Mohan Bakshi, a big man on campus and a popular party organizer, in Benny Mathews' comedy movie that focuses mainly on the Indian American experience, Where's the Party Yaar? (2003). Also in 2003, he portrayed one of Jamie Kennedy's pimpin’ crew, Hadji, in the comedy movie Malibu's Most Wanted and was featured in Troy Beyer's teen movie Love Don't Cost a Thing (starring Nick Cannon and Christina Milian), a remake of the 1987 film Can't Buy Me Love, starring Patrick Dempsey.
Meanwhile, he could be seen in an episode of PBS weekly show "Independent Lens" and Fox’s drama “Tru Calling.” He also appeared on the WB's short-lived family comedy show "All About the Andersons."
2004 saw Penn shared the title screen with John Cho, playing his Indian American best friend Kumar, in Danny Leiner's comedy movie Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. After his big break, more roles rolled in. Penn was cast in the romantic drama Dancing in Twilight (with Erick Avari, Louise Fletcher and Mimi Rogers), reunited with Jamie Kennedy in the box office gross Son of the Mask, and supported Ashton Kutcher and Amanda Peet in drama/romantic comedy film A Lot Like Love (all in 2005).
Recently, in 2006, Penn teamed with Ben Affleck, Rebecca Romijn and Bai Ling in Mike Binder's drama/comedy Man About Town and played Lex Luthor's genius lackey Stanford in Bryan Singer's superhero film based on the fictional DC Comics character, Superman Returns (starring Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth and Kevin Spacey). He also returned as Taj Mahal Badalandabad, the personal assistant to the legendary Van Wilder who has just graduated from college and is now on his way to England's Camford University, in a sequel to the successful 2002 comedy National Lampoon's Van Wilder, National Lampoon's Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj.
As for his upcoming film projects, Penn will star in Mira Nair's adaptation of the novel by Jhumpa Lahiri, The Namesake (as an American-born son of Indian immigrants trying to fit in among his fellow New Yorkers) and Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer's adventure comedy Epic Movie, as well as Mort Nathan's comedy movie Under New Management. He is also set to reprise his Kumar role in Harold & Kumar Go to Amsterdam (working title), which will be helmed by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg.
Additionally, TV viewers will catch him in the half hour comedy pilot for Warner Bros./ABC, The Danny Comden Project. He will also appear in a recurring role as a villain in the sixth season of Fox’s award-winning series starring Kiefer Sutherland, “24.”