For Rohan Kymal, actor-musician from New York, inspiration lies in his homeland
Rohan Kymal looks more a management professional than an actor-musician. For this 24 year-old New Yorker, who was born and brought up in the United States, India and specifically Kerala is where the ‘soul’ is.
Rohan has performed for Shankar Tucker, American clarinettist and musician renowned for his online music series ‘The Shrutibox’. The music is a blend of Indian and Western music. One of the songs, ‘O Re Piya – Rolling in the Deep’, was featured on MTV India. Shankar calls the song “a Hindi / Western Pop song mash-up,” which combined Rahat Fateh Ali Khan’s ‘O Re Piya’ from the film Aaja Nach Le with Adele’s ‘Rolling in the Deep’. Rohan has worked with Shankar on several projects including a music video, ‘Caught in the rain’. He has also performed with Shankar at Barack Obama’s inaugural Indiaspora Ball, Washington DC and at MIT, Boston. He worked with Rex Vijayan for a song, ‘Aakashame’ in the film English.
It was all music for Rohan till he discovered theatre and acting in high school. That love led him to studying acting at the New York University’s (NYU) Tisch Art Program. But not before convincing his father, Michigan-based businessman Chandran Kymal, “with a Powerpoint presentation complete with statistics showing percentage of successful Indian actors in the US.”
The condition was that he had to get a degree that would “support” himself, a Plan B of sorts. “So I went ahead and enrolled for a management degree in the business of entertainment and media technology,” says Rohan. Therefore he learnt theatre and management. To convince his parents, “I took up odd jobs. I even worked for a call centre to show that I could stand on my two feet.” His mother, Ajitha, belongs to Thiruvananthapuram and his father to Muvattupuzha. He has a younger sister.
Some of the NYU Tisch Productions that he has appeared in include Once on this Island and Gone Missing while his appearances on Broadway include plays such as All The Rats and Rags, Red Wednesday, Fabulous Lipitones, HAIR, Conni’s Avantegarde and the High School Musical. Of the last he says he just auditioned for the part and landed the lead part. “A rarity,” he says.
The films he has acted in include + One, The Way The Crow Flies, The Fish Will Bite (short) and Newlyweeds.
“Open ethnicity. Characters of no particular ethnicity are being written today. There are so many of us today that it is easier,” Rohan explains. Ethnicity does not come in the way of getting roles like before. There are several actors of Indian origin who have made a mark in the entertainment business, he says.
That said he prefers music. “Music does not have the limitations acting has and Indian music is where my soul and heart is.” He started learning music young. He learnt the tabla, Carnatic and Hindustani music before moving on to other forms such as pop, rock, opera and contemporary forms of music. His brand of music, fusion of Indian and Western, he agrees has a niche, Indian audience. But that is what they are looking at, he says. “We recently performed in the San Francisco Bay area; all the 1,500 seats were sold out. And the good thing is that now in India people are open to such new sounds.”
His immediate plans include a US tour with Shankar Tucker, an album and he is “in talks with people here and if it all works out then I’ll work here.” He says he wants to come back to India. Or divide his time between here and the US. The reason is that he doesn’t tire of India, “a love born out of spending a lot of time in India, in Kerala as a youngster. I get tired of the US but never of India.”