24 February 1983|
Chicago, Illinois, U.S
|Residence||Bangalore, Karnataka, India|
|Other names||Chetan Ahimsa|
|Alma mater||Yale University|
|Years active||2007 - Present|
Chetan Kumar (Kannada: ಚೇತನ್ ಕುಮಾರ) (born 24 February 1983), also known as Chetan Ahimsa, is an Indian film actor (Kannada Film Industry), social worker, political activist, and public intellectual.
Chetan graduated from Yale University in South Asian Studies with an Emphasis on Comparative Theater (2005). A US citizen, Chetan came to India as a Fulbright Scholar in 2005-06 to fulfill his passion to serve his native land.
Chetan made his on-screen debut in the 2007 cult classic film Aa Dinagalu and was awarded as the best debut actor in Udaya Film Awards for the film. His most recent success came in the 2013 superhit Mynaa, for which his performance received strong critical acclaim. Before entering films, Chetan was a theater artist who studied in conjunction with the National School of Drama—Bangalore, appeared in a series of Kannada plays, worked with street theater movements, and directed village dramas that emphasized women empowerment and challenged dowry.
Although Chetan was born and raised in Chicago, United States for 23 years, he is recognized for his fluency and oratory skills in Kannada and has championed Karnataka languages and the Kannada cause. Chetan has been supporting progressive youth & student organizations, women’s collectives, farmer’s groups, trade unions, Dalit & Adivasi movements to fight for equality and justice. He has made notable speeches in dozens of districts across the state, which has also resulted in uproar from established parties and fundamentalist groups. Chetan’s speeches are known to be revolutionary, socialist, anti-establishment, and pro-Kannada, focusing on the tenets of Buddha, Basava and Ambedkar.
Chetan has achieved considerable success in the philanthropic arena. Chetan’s victories in activism include a rehabilitation fund from the state government for victims of Endosulfan (2013), the building of 528 homes for the evicted tribals of Dhidalli, Coorg (2016), the founding of FIRE- Film Industry for Rights & Equality—for the benefits of women, writers, & workers in the Kannada Film Industry (2017), a recognized identity for the Kadugolla community (2018), a state-approved ‘minority status’ for Lingayats (2018), among others.
With knowledge on history, politics, literature, and current affairs, Chetan is an emerging public intellectual, who is regularly invited as a panelist for TV and media discussions on socio-political issues. He has been voicing his views through writings about social concerns (e.g., casting couch, water politics, against steel bridge construction, against communal politics and reservations for the marginalized) and recent government policies (Land Acquisition Bill, intolerance, and environmental destruction). In 2015, Chetan co-edited Kusumabale, an Oxford University Press publication written by one of modern Karnataka’s foremost litterateurs & activists, Devnoora Mahadeva.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Education
- 3 Secondary Education
- 4 Fulbright Recipient
- 5 Career
- 6 Philanthropy and Social/Political Activism (2005-present)
- 6.1 Endosulfan Victim Rehabilitation (2012-2013 & 2015)
- 6.2 Dhidalli Adivasis Rehabilitation Protests (2016-2017)
- 6.3 Lingayat Independent Religion (2017-present)
- 6.4 Kadugolla Identity Fight (2017-2018)
- 6.5 Film Industry for Rights & Equality (FIRE)
- 6.6 Rural School Instruction (2005-2006)
- 6.7 Women Empowerment (2005-2006)
- 7 Filmography
- 8 Awards and recognitions
- 9 References
- 10 External links
Chetan was born on 24 February 1983 in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. He finished his primary education at Marist High School. His father and mother, both doctors working in the US, hail from Karnataka, India. Chetan has one younger brother, Ashok Kumar, an Oxford University PhD, Fulbright Scholar, and student union leader in London, England, who at 21 was elected as the youngest County Supervisor in Madison, Wisconsin, U.S., on a Green Party platform in 2006.
Although born and raised in the US, Chetan has remained rooted to Indian culture by focusing on simple living, critical thinking, and giving back to society. Chetan credits his parents for exposing their children to altruism, philosophy, literature, politics, and their mother tongue Kannada as major part of their upbringing. During Chetan’s growing years, his home in Chicago was the epicenter of great learning and arts where poet/linguist A.K. Ramanujan, nobel laureate S. Chandrashekhar, professor of Ancient Greek David Grene, and prominent Indian classical musicians would make regular visits.
As a product of a strong intellectual and cultural environment, Chetan not only excelled academically but grew up with a fondness for arts and literature, which is evident in his present-day expertise in folk music and Vachana ‘sahitya’. From childhood, Chetan has been a stage performer in saxophone (Carnatic and jazz), acting (Kannada and English), and story-telling. He was appreciated as an Indian mythological mono-actor across the United States as a child.
While growing up and attending high school in a nearly 100% white, working-class neighborhood, Chetan experienced several struggles of racism, religious intolerance, and physical violence that have shaped his vision of an egalitarian society. Such incidences have inspired him to fight to uplift India’s class, caste/religion, and gender downtrodden as well.
Chetan attended Marist High School, Chicago. Chetan was a state-level tennis player (captain) and competitive swimmer in high school. He was also lead saxophone player in the marching band and part of various extracurricular activities that included scholastic bowl and math team.
Chetan continued his education at Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, USA, in 2001. He was member of Pierson College.
At Yale University, Chetan created his own major under the Special Divisional Major guidelines. The B.A. degree, entitled ‘South Asian Studies with an Emphasis on Comparative Theater,’ included competency in 2 major South Asian languages and classes from literature, anthropology, history, theater, economics, gender studies, and other humanities fields. Chetan graduated with distinction in his major.
In college, Chetan was captain & choreographer of his university bhangra team, social chair of the South Asian Students (SAS) Association, and member of the secret society Berzelius.
During his summer months, Chetan worked for the Illinois State’s Attorney’s Office and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)—National Capital Area. In the summer of 2004, Chetan received grants from Yale University and Pierson College to study issues of caste, class, and gender in various village/folk and urban forms of South Asian drama in a project entitled ‘Living (the) Kannada Nataka’.
Upon graduation in 2005, Chetan received the 12-month Fulbright Scholarship to Karnataka, India, and worked in conjunction with National School of Drama—Bangalore. He studied the ways performance, specifically the Kannada stage, has en-gendered, enabled, and empowered. During his Fulbright year, Chetan traveled across Karnataka state with various drama troupes, researching in places like Mysore, Shimoga, Chamarajanagar, Dharwad, Mangalore, and several other locales.
Theater Stage Performer
Chetan Kumar began his career as a Kannada Stage Performer in early 2006. He has performed in two Kannada plays Sethu Maadhavana Sallaapa and Sooryasthadinda Sooryodayadavarage with Bangalore-based theater group Vistara in May 2006 and August 2006. Chetan was selected as a lead in films after his work with Kannada theater & ‘Vistara’ group. His other multifaceted activities include modern dance, mono acting and instrumental. Since his college days he has been a choreographer/instructor/stage dancer of Bhangra, actor in English and Kannada plays.
Chetan debuted as hero in Kannada films through director K. M. Chaitanya's debut directorial venture Aa Dinagalu in 2007. The film went on to become highly successful at the box office and became critically acclaimed. This also fetched him the Udaya Film Awards for the best actor. Followed by this film, Chetan has appeared in a cameo role in Puneet Rajkumar's 2009 film Raam. He got yet another critical acclamation for his role in the film Birugaali.Movies like "Suryakanthi" and "Dashamukha" did not fare exceptionally well at the box office.However,Myna which was released in the year 2013 turned out to be a sensational success.He was praised for his performance both by the media as well as the audience. He experimented with a period film Noorondu Nenapu based on Marathi novel Duniyadari which was released on June 9, 2017. He played the lead role of character named "Shreyas". Though this film did not do that well at the box office, Chetan was admired for his versatile acting. His last film Athiratha released on Nov 24, 2017, received positive reviews, but failed due to controversy from opening day. In Chamarajanagara, Karnataka, right-wing extremists tore down posters and prevented the film from being screened due to Chetan's political stances. Also, an online campaign by Hindu fundamentalists boycotted 'Athiratha' citing Chetan's activism.
Philanthropy and Social/Political Activism (2005-present)
Chetan has been actively organizing, speaking at & helping lead scores of statewide socio-political seminars & campaigns such as pro- class/caste/gender equality measures, private sector reservations, all-women police stations demands, youth awareness, anti-fascism discussions, and grassroots mobilization with farmers/student/backwards/workers/women’s/Dalits/youth organizations. Regions of work across Karnataka have been Bengaluru, Bidar, Mysuru, Kalaburgi, Chamrajanagar, Kolar, Kodagu, Hassan, Hubli-Dharwad, Haveri, Chikkabalapura, Davangere, Mandya, Tumkur, Shimoga, Chitradurga, & Dakshin Kannad. Chetan, a staunch Ambedkarite, has been consistently involved in Dalit equality and dignity struggles both on-ground and through his social media writings. He writes:
“Atrocities on Dalits— one-way, top-down oppression-- are not occasional occurrences. Casteism is systematic & institutionally ingrained… With such a plethora of injustices against Dalits, it’s about time we stop relegating the discussion on Dalit equality merely to reservations.”
His significant social work/activism includes the following:
India against Corruption (2011) Chetan joined the pan-Indian anti-corruption movement through on-ground protests and several in-studio TV interviews/discussions in Kannada & English.
Anti-Superstition (2014) - Chetan along with local activists was part of educating Koraga tribal school children of Dakshin Kannad against the discriminatory practice of ‘Ajjalu Paddhathi’ where tribal women are forced to consume the hair & nails of pregnant upper-castes. Media exposure of this issue compelled the state government to ban ‘Ajjalu Paddhathi’ via its 2017 Anti-Superstition Bill.
LGBTQIA (2016)- Chetan has openly advocated for the rights of sexual minorities and contested the discriminatory Article 377.
Mahadayi/Kalasa-Banduri Nala (2015-present)- Chetan has championed drinking water facilities for those alongside the Mahadayi River in Hubli, Belagavi, & Gadag districts through on-ground protest, TV discussions and a published article.
Lake Rejuvenation (2017)- Chetan worked with social workers & environmentalists in Hassan & Kalburgi to remove mud & rejuvenate lakes during periods of drought.
Anti-Hindi Imposition & Karnataka State Flag (2017)- Chetan challenged imposition of Hindi in government institutions in Bengaluru and pushed for a government-sanctioned, independent Karnataka state flag by attending protests, round-table conferences and TV panel discussions. He has also advocated for Karnataka domicile representation in private and government sector.
"I am Gauri" campaign: Chetan stood in solidarity against the attacks on activists/progressives/intellectuals in light of the Gauri Lankesh murder through protests & speeches in Bengaluru & Kolar. He made the following statement in his speech during "I am Gauri" campaign:
"Gauri Lankesh represented the voice of dissent. The voice against the culture of hatred being propagated in Karnataka. She did not bow down to the threats by the cowardly lot. She stood strong. They were scared of her bravery and hence, they killed her.” 
Chetan lent his support to a fight demanding 24-hour medical care & monthly compensation increase (from Rs. 1,000 to Rs. 3,000-5,000) for Endosulfan victims in Karnataka’s coastal belt. The state government met the demands by allocating Rs. 72-90 crores for rehabilitation of pesticide poisoning victims, which it continues to provide.
Dhidalli Adivasis Rehabilitation Protests (2016-2017)
Chetan led the large-scale campaign to rehabilitate 3,000 Coorg tribals after their unlawful displacement in December, 2016. Homes are currently being constructed under government auspices near Kushalnagara at a cost of Rs. 4 lakhs/home for 528+ families. In April 2018, BJP officially chargesheeted the Dhidalli struggle as ‘Naxalite-inspired,’ listing Chetan’s name as responsible. Chetan has since challenged these allegations citing that the Dhidalli protest was non-violent and Constitutional, demanding an apology from the Law Minister & BJP state President.
Lingayat Independent Religion (2017-present)
Chetan played a significant role in the ongoing demand for an independent Lingayat religion under the umbrella of Basava’s philosophy and the Vachana literature. Participated in pro-Lingayat religion forums in Bengaluru, Kalburgi, Hassan as well as via several TV discussions & interviews. In March, 2018, the Karnataka state government recommended to the Centre that Lingayats be given ‘minority religion’ status.
Founded a Kannada Film Industry-based association called FIRE (officially registered in 2017) that works to tackle sexual harassment in the workplace, improve livelihoods of film workers & technicians, and establish a writers’ guild with certification and structured payments for writers. FIRE facilitated the allocation of 150+ homes for economically-backward cinema workers.
Chetan taught critical thinking & current events at a K-10 village school in Mullur, Karnataka, 25 km’s outside of Mysore, starting in September, 2005. Specific academic techniques include interactive sessions, discussion forums, writing assignments, guest speakers, and meta-syllabus-based studies.
Women Empowerment (2005-2006)
During his time as a Fulbright scholar, Chetan led women empowerment programs by using drama performances as mediums for economic and social change for village women of Chamrajnagar, Karnataka. Chetan directed dramas which spread awareness on the harms of dowry and creatively portrayed ways of overcoming partriarchy. He also helped organize the event-- ‘Ujwala Andolana’ in 2006– where 5,000 women participated in cultural performances.
|Denotes films that have not yet been released|
|2007||Aa Dinagalu||Chetan||Kannada||Udaya Film Award for Best Debut Actor|
|2010||Suryakanthi||Rohith / Surya||Kannada|
|2017||Noorondu Nenapu||Shreyas Bahaddur||Kannada|
Awards and recognitions
|2008||Udaya Film Awards||Best Actor||Aa Dinagalu||Won|
- "Exclusive biography of #ChetanKumar and on his life".
- "Interview: Social concern is my priority, not cinema, says Chetan". Asianet News Network Pvt Ltd. Retrieved 2018-04-11.
- "Chicago-born Yale graduate Chetan Kumar came to India on a Fulbright scholarship to study Kannada theatre. He stayed on, travelled, unlearnt many concepts, taught and learnt from children before making his mark in Kannada films. But between shoots, he continues to visit children at his family-run school near Mysore. He claims he doesn't just teach, he also learns and unlearns many notions. And that, for him, is the essence of education". epaper.timesofindia.com. Retrieved 2018-04-11.
- "The actor's activism". The Hindu. 2017-06-08. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 2018-04-10.
- "Chetan juggles acting and activism with ease". The New Indian Express. Retrieved 2018-04-10.
- "A powerhouse of talent". Deccan Herald. Retrieved 2018-04-10.
- "Going the extra mile". Deccan Herald. Retrieved 2018-04-10.
- "This actor is fighting for adivasi rights - Times of India". The Times of India. Retrieved 2018-04-10.
- "ಪ್ರವರ್ಗ–1ಕ್ಕೆ 'ಕಾಡುಗೊಲ್ಲ' ಸೇರ್ಪಡೆ - ಪ್ರಜಾವಾಣಿ". ಪ್ರಜಾವಾಣಿ (in Kannada). Retrieved 2018-04-11.
- "ಕಾಡುಗೊಲ್ಲ ಸಮುದಾಯಕ್ಕೆ ಎಸ್ಟಿ ಮಾನ್ಯತೆ". kannada.oneindia.com (in Kannada). Retrieved 2018-04-11.
- "Karnataka Assembly Election: "Wealth and money dictate whether you win," says actor Chetan". Asianet News Network Pvt Ltd. Retrieved 2018-04-10.
- "Tipu's legacy: politics and misreading". Deccan Herald. Retrieved 2018-04-11.
- "Bengaluru's anti-steel bridge movement: Sound politics but questionable 'leadership'". The News Minute. 2016-10-16. Retrieved 2018-04-11.
- "'Hindutva and Hindu are different entities'". Bangalore Mirror. Retrieved 2018-04-11.
- "ಪ್ರೊ. ವಿ.ಎಸ್.ಶ್ರೀಧರ್ ಅವರು 'ಕುಸುಮಬಾಲೆ' ಆಂಗ್ಲ ಅನುವಾದ ಕುರಿತು ಬರೆದಿರುವ ವಿಮರ್ಶೆ". ನಮ್ಮ ಬನವಾಸಿ. Retrieved 2018-04-11.
- "A guy at the water cooler: Ashok Kumar talks about being socialist in public office | Solidarity". www.solidarity-us.org. Retrieved 2018-04-11.
- "'I would like to learn new languages'". Deccan Herald. Retrieved 2018-04-11.
- "Chetan's giant leap from Yale to a being a household name in Karnataka - SouthScope". SouthScope. 2010-05-01. Retrieved 2018-04-11.
- Prajaa TV Kannada News (2017-01-08), Prajaa Tv Interview with Aa Dinagalu Chetan Kumar ಆ ದಿನಗಳು ಖ್ಯಾತಿಯ ನಟ ಚೇತನ್ ಕುಮಾರ್ ಸಂದರ್ಶನ - Jan 8, retrieved 2018-04-11
- "Indian American actor, Fulbright scholar and Yale alum Chetan Kumar assaulted by police officer in Bengaluru". americanbazaaronline.com. 29 January 2015. Retrieved 15 April 2015.
- "Chetan is back in college and in love". The New Indian Express. Retrieved 2018-04-10.
- "Kannada actor Chetan targeted for Lingayat stand, theatres playing his film attacked". The News Minute. 2017-11-27. Retrieved 2018-04-10.
- "Stardom and society: The rare young stars who speak out on social issues". The News Minute. 2016-08-03. Retrieved 2018-04-10.
- Janaki Vasudevan (2011-04-13), Actor Chetan speaks on corruption, News9. Part 3, retrieved 2018-04-11
- "Working For Rehabilitation Of Adivasis, Branded A Naxalite; Karnataka Actor Asks Apology From BJP Leader". The Logical Indian. 2018-04-09. Retrieved 2018-04-11.
- Colourful Kamanabillu - Eps 12- Sandalwood Star Chetan Ahimsa Being An LGBTQIA Ally - RJ Shilok, retrieved 2018-04-11
- Suvarna News | ಸುವರ್ಣ ನ್ಯೂಸ್ (2017-12-26), "Actor Chetan Slams Political Parties Over Mahadayi Issue" | ರಾಜಕೀಯ ಪಕ್ಷಗಳ ವಿರುದ್ಧ ಆಕ್ರೋಶ..!!, retrieved 2018-04-11
- "Mahadayi water dispute: Farmers to observe bandh in north Karnataka tomorrow - Times of India ►". The Times of India. Retrieved 2018-04-10.
- Btv Kannada Ɩ ಬಿಟಿವಿ ಕನ್ನಡ (2018-02-09), Food Activist Protest: Meeting failed: Actor Chetan and CITU President Varalakshmi reacts, retrieved 2018-04-11
- Btv Kannada Ɩ ಬಿಟಿವಿ ಕನ್ನಡ (2018-02-09), Actor Chetan supports Food Activist Protest||ಸರ್ಕಾರದ ಮಾತುಕತೆ ವಿಫಲ||Meeting failed, retrieved 2018-04-11
- "Support against Hindi imposition grows, organisations from non-Hindi states gather in Bengaluru". The News Minute. 2017-07-15. Retrieved 2018-04-10.
- Btv Kannada Ɩ ಬಿಟಿವಿ ಕನ್ನಡ (2017-09-12), Actor Chetan Speech on Gauri Lankesh issue, retrieved 2018-04-11
- "I Am Gauri: In Bengaluru, thousands turn up in solidarity to protest journalist's murder". The News Minute. 2017-09-12. Retrieved 2018-04-10.
- "Chetan helps endosulfan victims - Times of India". The Times of India. Retrieved 2018-04-10.
- "Actor Chetan says He will Return to Kodagu Forest". The New Indian Express. Retrieved 2018-04-10.
- "Chetan's fight for diddalli adivasis continues - Times of India". The Times of India. Retrieved 2018-04-10.
- Kannada Suddi (2016-12-20), Actor Chethan Meets CM Siddaramaiah About Madikeri Tribal Problems, retrieved 2018-04-11
- Kannada Suddi (2016-12-17), Actor Chethan Supported Madikeri Tribal People Protest | Exclusive, retrieved 2018-04-11
- "ಕೇಳದೆ ಕೊಡುವ ಸರ್ಕಾರ ಮುಂದಿನ ದಿನಗಳಲ್ಲಿ ಬರಬೇಕಿದೆ: ನಟ ಚೇತನ್". Public TV News. 2018-03-11. Retrieved 2018-04-11.
- Reporter, Staff (2018-04-03). "Actor Chetan seeks apology from BJP". The Hindu. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 2018-04-10.
- "Chaos at Lingayat meet". Bangalore Mirror. Retrieved 2018-04-10.
- "B S Yeddyurappa playing divisive politics: Actor Chetan - Times of India". The Times of India. Retrieved 2018-04-10.
- "ಜಾತಿ ಪಟ್ಟಿಯಲ್ಲಿ ಕಾಡುಗೊಲ್ಲ, ಹಟ್ಟಿಗೊಲ್ಲ ಹೆಸರು ಸೇರ್ಪಡೆಗೆ C.S.ದ್ವಾರಕನಾಥ್, ನಟ ಚೇತನ್ ಸಿಎಂ ಗೆ ಮನವಿ.!". kannadanewsnow.com. Retrieved 2018-04-11.
- "ಜಾತಿ ಪಟ್ಟಿಯಲ್ಲಿ ಕಾಡುಗೊಲ್ಲ, ಹಟ್ಟಿಗೊಲ್ಲ ಹೆಸರು ಸೇರ್ಪಡೆಗೆ C.S.ದ್ವಾರಕನಾಥ್, ನಟ ಚೇತನ್ ಸಿಎಂ ಗೆ ಮನವಿ.! - Kannada News Now | DailyHunt". DailyHunt. Retrieved 2018-04-11.
- "Sandalwood on FIRE: Kannada film industry is setting up a body to address gender issues". The News Minute. 2017-03-23. Retrieved 2018-04-10.
- "Chetan makes headway in starting a scriptwriters association for Sandalwood - Times of India". The Times of India. Retrieved 2018-04-10.
- "The Kannada Film Industry needs substantive reform: Chetan - Times of India". The Times of India. Retrieved 2018-04-10.
- Suddi TV | ಸುದ್ದಿ ಟಿವಿ Kannada (2017-06-12), Katha Nayaka - 11th June 2017 - ಕಥಾ ನಾಯಕ | ಚೇತನ್ ಕುಮಾರ್ | ಸುದ್ದಿ ಟಿವಿ, retrieved 2018-04-11
- Ranendran, Nuvena (6 October 2013). "An actor with the heart of a teacher". Deccan Chronicle. deccanchronicle.com. Retrieved 15 April 2015.