Pittsburgh Post Gazette
by Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor
Producer-director Harish Saluja cast himself in a small role in "The Journey." He plays Dr. Lal, a successful Indian doctor whose blatant racial and class prejudice causes his party guests to walk out en masse.
"There was some perverse pleasure in playing the villain," he says, as well as in the fact that "all the characters are me except for the one that I play." Saluja says "The Journey" is based primarily on his experiences as a native of India who immigrated to the United States. He had an engineering degree and a love of the arts, which didn't necessarily mesh.
"I came to New York on Dec. 15, 1971. I could go look for a job, or I could go to the Museum of Modern Art and see all the Impressionists. And they were doing a Kubrick retrospective! Well, screw the job! Then, within a month, I ran out of money."
Someone suggested he come to Pittsburgh, a mill town where his engineering degree might be of some use. When he made enough money, he could always come back to New York.
"I found a job selling home improvements to innocent people. I made $34 a week. Then I found a job at a publishing company, which I now own.
He puts out two technical magazines. One is called Medical Electronics, the other is titled Measurements and Control. But Saluja has also exhibited his paintings in New York and in Europe, and he hosts the "Music from India" show on WDUQ-FM.
As his business prospered, he realized, "1 have two choices. I can get stinking rich or I can do what I've been preaching all my life -that the purpose of life is to do some good."
As one of the characters in "The Journey" says, "Life gets in the way of art." So Saluja decided to reverse the equation. He met Pittsburgh filmmaker Tony Buba, became associate producer of his film "No Pets" and set out to learn something about making movies.
"Here was this kind, quiet, easygoing, loving, nurturing person," he says of Buba, "and he was making a movie for no money." He took courses and workshops and met movie people who convinced him he was on the right track.
He filmed "The Journey" in Pittsburgh last fall. It received its world premiere at the Seattle Film Festival and has received good notices, including the Audience Award for best feature at the Florida Film Festival.
Now, he says, "I'll be making movies here as long as I can. I have 11 to 12 stories I would like to make into movies."
The first, which he hopes to start next summer, is "Chasing Windmills," the story of a man whose single goal in life is to win a Pulitzer Prize. The day after he does so, he tries to commit suicide.
"It's about how you find a reason to live after you get what you want, " he says. That won't be a problem for Saluja, with his first film under his belt.
He doesn't think Pittsburgh's film community needs to wait for Hollywood to come along and revitalize the industry here.
"We should stop being a total victim. What if Hollywood doesn't come? Should we keel over and die? I knew nobody, I had no money from Hollywood, but look what I did in Pittsburgh with local people [except for his principal actors, who included the renowned Indian performers Roshan Seth and Saeed Jaffrey].
"If the community would put together a little group and say, 'We'll grow our own industry,' we could do it. I'm going to be doing it."