Journey, The (1997): Harish Saluja’s Directorial Debut, Cross-Cultural Comedy

Seattle Film Fest 1997–Roshan Seth and Saeed Jaffrey, two of India’s most distinguished actors working in the West, give inspired performances in The Journey, Harish Saluja’s routinely titled but modestly accomplished directorial debut.

Though predictable, this nicely executed cross-cultural, cross-generational serio comedy deserves to be seen on the big screen, particularly in cities with large Indian (and other immigrant) communities.

A reworking of the classic culture collision and “fish out of the water” format, The Journey concerns Kishan Singh (Seth), a recent widower and retired schoolmaster, who comes to the U.S. to live with his son, Raj (Antony Zaki). A workaholic physician in a Pittsburgh hospital, Raj is married to the very WASPish Laura (Carrie Preston), a prim, elegant woman, who is a frustrated poet. With the help of service people, the young couple raises their young daughter, Jenny (Nora Bates), though clearly neither has much time for her.

As soon as Kishan lands in the house, tensions are brought to the surface. For a while, the film just chronicles the rather familiar assimilation efforts and dilemmas of non-Western immigrants living in big American cities. Laura complains that Kishan is too messy, and she’s also upset by his male chauvinism and “peculiar” Old-World habits. For his part, the older gentleman can’t figure out all the technical gadgets and remote controls in the very bourgeois, high-tech house.

But if Laura resents Kishan’s disrupting presence and Raj is ambiguous toward his father’s extended stay, daughter Jenny immediately takes liking to him. Far more intimate and attentive to her needs than her parents (or baby-sitter, who’s fired by Kishan in a wonderful scene), Kishan spends time with her reading stories, educating her in matters of art, and so on. Exuding natural warmth and brimming with energy and ideas, Kishan also ingratiates himself with Laura’s single friend, a witty artist named Audrey (Betsy Zajko), who takes him out to see the sights.

Bearing thematic resemblance to Ang Lee’s intergenerational-conflict movies, specifically Pushing Hands, The Journey is similarly heartfelt and sentimental, unabashedly embracing the old immigrant’s point of view. Though going for a more balanced family portraiture, helmer Saluja can’t conceal the fact that Kishan is the true charismatic hero, and in the hands of such a pro as Seth, the movie is unmistakably skewed in his favor.

Indeed, the elder Indian thesps dominate the film in one priceless scene after another, particularly when they reminisce about their youth and college days. Seth proves what a relaxed performer and polished raconteur he is when he recites poetry from his remarkably lucid memory. Zaki is a bit bland as the hapless husband-doctor, and the physically appealing Preston lacks interesting dimensions, which is probably a fault of the stereotypical writing of their parts.

Picture’s tech credits are appealing, particularly John Rice’s lensing of outdoor sequences atop Mt. Washington and at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, where a crucial family scene takes place.

Credits

A New Ray Films production.
Produced, directed by Harish Saluja.
Screenplay, Saluja and Lisa Kirk Puchner.
Camera: John Rice.
Editor: Tom Dubensky.
Associate producer: Jane Aseniero.

Running time: 97 min.

Cast

Kishan Singh……Roshan Seth
Ashok………..Saeed Jaffrey
Raj Singh……….Antony Zak
Laura Singh….Carrie Preston
Jenny Singh……..Nora Bates
Audrey…………Betsy Jajko
Michael…….Michael Emerson