Chetan Kumar is an American-Indian film actor, public intellectual, humanitarian, and social and political activist. He is well known for starring in the Kannada-language films Aa Dinagalu (2007), Myna (2013), and Noorondu Nenapu (2017).
Chetan Kumar Ahimsa was born on Thursday, 24 February 1983 (age 39 years; as of 2022), in Chicago, Illinois, USA. He pursued his primary education at Marist High School in Chicago.
Chetan spent his summer holidays in Karnataka every year. It was his parents, who made sure that despite living in Chicago he stays connected to his roots and speaks Kannada fluently. While talking about his visits to India, in an interview, he said,
While in Karnataka, I travelled to historic locales, engaged with local denizens, spent time in villages, attended plays and performances, ate mangoes and kulfis, interacted with impoverished children…”
While growing up, he loved listening to the stories of the Indian epic ‘Mahabharata’ narrated to him by his grandparents. In fact, the actor even portrayed his favourite character, Bheema, in the Mahabharata play during his childhood.
During his high school days, he actively participated in swimming and tennis. He was also the lead saxophonist in his high school marching band. Thereafter, he enrolled himself at Yale University, US, studied South Asian Studies with an Emphasis on Comparative Theater Studies He graduated from the university in 2005 with a distinction. In 2005, Kumar returned to Karnataka, after receiving a 12-month Fulbright Scholarship (2005-2006) post his graduation at Yale University and worked in conjunction with the National School of Drama, Bangalore. As a Fulbright scholar, Chetan extensively travelled across Karnataka while accompanying various drama troupes.
Height (approx.): 5′ 7”
Hair Colour: Black
Eye Colour: Black
Parents & Siblings
His parents, who work and reside in the US, hail from Karnataka, India. His father, Drs. Basavlinga Amarkumar, a surgeon, moved to Chicago at the age of 24 to pursue his surgical residency at Cook County Hospital in Chicago. His mother, Mangala Kumar, is an anesthesiologist.
Chetan’s younger brother, Ashok Kumar, is a UW Madison graduate, Oxford University PhD, and Fulbright Scholar, who works as an economics teacher at Birkbeck, University of London, UK.
His grandfather actively participated in the anti-colonial movements and was also jailed during his youth for India’s freedom struggle.
Wife & Children
On 2 February 2020, Chetan Kumar got married to his long-time girlfriend Megha S, an activist and engineer from Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh, in a low key court marriage ceremony in Bengaluru. Later, Megha pursued a law degree in human rights.
In the presence of underprivileged kids and senior citizens, they hosted a small celebration at Bengaluru’s Vinoba Bhave Ashram, which the couple renovated collaboratively instead of spending their well-earned money on a big, fat, lavish wedding. Additionally, the activist couple took vows led by the Indian transgender activist, Akkai Padmashali.
The guests were treated with tribal performances like the Budakattu-Adivasi dance, vachanas, and Sufi music, at the wedding.
In 2015, Chetan Kumar and Megha S made acquaintance at a social gathering in Bengaluru, where a few mutual friends introduced them. It was the passion for social work, which brought the actor and engineer together. Megha was associated with the social work wing at her company and had been working towards the education of underprivileged children, fundraising for flood relief victims, and spearheading environmentally-conscious initiatives. In an interview, while talking about the beginning of his relationship with Megha, he said,
Our friendship began to grow stronger because of our shared priorities and overlapping dreams of an equitable, ideal world.”
Chetan Kumar and Megha S undertook a court marriage because neither of them believed in religious rituals.
He advocates Egalitarianism, a philosophy that uploads equal rights and opportunities for everyone despite their caste and creed. A staunch Ambedkarite, Chetan, who took part in a massive protest led by Karnataka’s unified Dalit-Bahujan forces titled ‘Vidhana Soudha-High Court Chalo,’ expressed his beliefs in a tweet, which read,
We are neither Hindu nor Mussalman; we are egalitarians. We are neither BJP nor Congress; we are alternative forces. There’s a big ongoing controversy. We are neither kesari shawls nor hijabs; we are blue shawls. Transformation is alternative.”
Chetan Kumar made his film debut with the 2007 Indian Kannada language crime drama ‘Aa Dinagalu’ in which he played the lead role of Chethan Naayak. Set in the 1980s Bangalore underworld, the film centres around the business magnate Chetan who struggles to save his love, Mallika, from his conspiring father. For the film, Kumar received Udaya TV’s Best Debut Actor Award.
His second film Birugaali (2009) was not a commercially hit film, which garnered him rave reviews from the critics for his performance. In the 2013 Indian Kannada language romance drama film ‘Myna,’ Chetan Kumar played the protagonist, Satya, who, after being arrested for 34 serial murder cases, shares his life story with the police. Based on a real-life incident, the film garnered numerous accolades and massive appreciation from the audience.
He played the lead role of Shreyas Bahadur in the 2017 Indian Kannada collegiate film ‘Noorondu Nenapu.’ Set in 1980, the film centres around Shreyas, a new boy in college, who befriends the most notorious gang in college.
In 2017, he appeared in the Indian Kannada action thriller film ‘Athiratha’ in which he played the role of a news reporter named Akash, who invests a minister’s scandal and uses the media to bring a social impact. Other films in which he starred include Suryakaanti (2010), Dashamukha (2012), and Ranam (2021).
Slammed for hurting the sentiments of Brahmins
In 2021, the Karnataka State Brahmin Development Board lodged a complaint in two police stations in Bengaluru against Chetan Kumar alleging that the actor had hurt religious beliefs and made imputations prejudicial to national integration, citing that his tweet about Brahminism was derogatory.
Arrested for a tweet against Justice Krishna Dixit
On February 16 2022, he was arrested allegedly for his objectionable tweet against a Karnataka High Court judge, Justice Krishna Dixit, who was part of a bench hearing the batch of petitions for the 2022 Karnataka Hijab row. In January 2022, a dispute had erupted in Karnataka after some Muslim students, who demanded to be allowed to wear the Hijab in classrooms in a junior college, were denied entry to classes. MN Anucheth, Deputy Commissioner of Police (Central), revealed the actor was charged under sections 505 (2) (statements conducing to public mischief) and 504 (intentional insult to provoke breach of the peace) of the IPC. While re-posting his 2020 tweet, which read,
This week KA (Karnataka) High Court Justice Krishna Dixit grantd (granted) pre-arrest bail to rape-accused Rakesh B claiming ‘it is unbecoming of Indian woman to sleep after rape; that is not way women react when they are ravished.’ What’s ‘unbecoming’ is 21st c (century) misogyny of this judiciary Dixit fossil.”
This is a tweet I wrote nearly two years ago regarding a Karnataka High Court decision. Justice Krishna Dixit made such disturbing comments in a rape case. Now this same judge is determining whether #hijabs are acceptable or not in govt schools. Does he have the clarity required?”
Philanthropy & Activism
A genuine vein of philanthropy has always existed in Chetan Kumar. In an interview, he said,
I came to India, not for money, not to become a film star, which I haven’t, not for any kind of name, I came to do social work…Social work and activism is where my passion lies, to improve the lives of people.”
Endosulfan Victim Rehabilitation (2013)
In 2013, Chetan, along with some like-minded people, formed an association called Endosulfan Virodhi Horatha Samiti, which has been fighting against the sale of Endosulfan pesticide, an agrichemical known for its toxicity, in the market. Chetan lent his support to the protest demanding 24-hour medical care and a monthly compensation increase for Endosulfan victims. Consequently, the government extended Rs. 50 crore financial and medical relief to victims of the debilitating pesticide in Karnataka.
Protests against the vacuation of Dhidalli Adivasis (2016–2017)
In 2018, Chetan took part in the protest staged by the Diddalli Tribals. The protest erupted after police and the local administration evacuated the Kuduva tribals who were living in the Diddalli forest in Madikeri for generations. The protestors demanded the government to take necessary action and provide them with shelter. The protest had fruitful results as the government agreed to build 528 homes to rehabilitate 3,000 evicted Adivasis in Basavanahalli, Karnataka.
Demand for ‘Lingayat’ as an Independent Religion (2017)
In 2017, Chetan played a pivotal role in the demand for a separate religious identity ‘Lingayat,’ which gained momentum during the 2018 elections in Karnataka. In March 2018, the Karnataka state government recommended Lingayats’ recognition as a religious minority under the Karnataka Minorities Act.
Kadugolla Identity Fight (2017–2018)
In 2017, Chetan lent his support to the Kadugolla community– Kannada-speaking, impoverished tribals of Ramanagara, Chitradurga, Tumkur, and Bellari, to secures a separate identity for the community. Previously, the Kadugolla community was merged into the Golla community, which were economically superior to Kadugollas and had included them within their caste framework for the sake of democratic numbers that enabled them to exert political pressure.
Film Industry for Rights and Equality (FIRE)
The brainchild of actor-writer Chetan, Film Industry for Equality and Rights (FIRE) is a film industry-based association that works towards the elimination of sexual harassment in the workplace, improving the livelihoods and creative spirits of writers, and establish Provident Fund (PF) and other medical benefits for film workers and technicians.
He has worked as a rural school instructor, teaching critical thinking and logical skills at Vinayaka Gnana Vidya Shale near Mysore. He began teaching children in 2005.
He is a strong advocate of the LGBTQIA community and has expressed his support to the queer society on numerous occasions.
- Apart from acting, he is also trained in modern dance, mono acting, instrumental. Additionally, he is proficient in performing Indian classical music (Carnatic) and jazz on the saxophone.
- The eco-friendly couple, Chetan and Megha, distributed handmade wedding cards with imbibed Marigold plant seeds. As a return gift, handed out copies of the Indian constitution.
- In an interview, he revealed that he desires to learn many languages. He said,
I have a thing for learning languages. I’ve learnt a bit of Urdu, Telugu and a couple more. I would like to learn new languages, regardless of which language industry I am working in.”
- Chetan Kumar remained in prison in Parappana Agrahara jail, Bengaluru, on his 39th birthday as he was arrested due to his tweet against the Karnataka High Court judge, Justice Krishna Dixit.
- Under the pen name Chetan Ahimsa , he has been voicing his opinion through writing articles for newspapers like Deccan Herald, The News Minute, and Bangalore Mirror.
- He is an ardent follower of B. R. Ambedkar, who is known for renouncing Hinduism and inspiring the Dalit Buddhist movement.
- In 2020, he was selected as one of Deccan Herald’s “20 Changemakers of 2020.”
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