Engineer, Artist, Radio Host, Filmmaker: Harish Saluja
India Post
by Nandini Pal

Detail for Raga Tilak from the Raga series paintings.  Inset: Harish Saluja.Harish Saluja, a charismatic man by all standards, is a blend of art and science, Indian and American, East and West. He is an engineer, a painter, a radio host, and now is on the way to becoming a filmmaker.

Saluja lives in Pittsburgh. Originally from Punjab, he trained to be a mining engineer but always had a strong artistic bent that steered his life toward filmmaking.

He came to the U.S. in 1971 at age 25 to make a life. It is the money he has saved over the years that he is now going to invest in his new venture.

Saluja's mother was a classical singer of some repute. He also loves music and has hosted the program Music from India on Pittsburgh's WDUQFM since 1972. Growing up with music led him to express both music and art in one consolidated channel. Many of his paintings are based on ragas.

"The Sanskrit word raga means color as well as tone," Saluja said to ART NEWS recently. "If you look at the basic form of a raga, it is a pattern. The same combination of notes are repeated in repetitively strummed layers of tone and rhythm like colored threads woven by the performer into a musical carpet." Detail from Raga Tilak Kamod from the Raga series paintings. Inset: Harish Saluja.

One sees the same effect in Saluja's paintings based on ragas. He belongs to the Modernist tradition. There is a pattern and a repetition that strengthens that pattern in his work. The vibrancy of the raga Saluja wants to depict is brought out in the colors that bring alive the starkness of the desert, the beauty of the night, the flowing music of the river, or the dazzling rainstorms the raga is about. Saluja has also done a "palette jazz" in his Jazz Series paintings.

Saluja plans to bring his creativity to the screen in The Journey. The strong brush strokes, layers of paints and gossamer details that evoke such a tactile sensuality in his paintings will now be translated into celluloid. Influenced by the stark Indianness of Satyajit Ray, Saluja named his company New Ray Films.

The Journey is based on an original screenplay by Saluja. It will tell the story of the life of Kishan Singh, who comes to the U.S. to visit his physician son in Pittsburgh. At first, his "Indian" habits irritate his American daughter in-law, Laura. But during his stay, she discovers his passion for life, poetry and music and finds, beneath the veneer, a solace and direction that help her resolve a difl1cult part of her life and see her father-inlaw in a new light.

Here again Saluja will bridge a traditional India with a more liberated U.S. The film will show India through Kishan, America through Laura, and a blend of both in Kishan's son, Raj, and grandchild, Jenny.

Saluja is particularly keen to bring Indian culture to the fore. "The one million Indians living in the U.S. comprise the wealthiest ethnic community "Yet most people have little exposure to the broad range of Indian culture. India is stereotyped as overpopulated and poor with starving children and cows roaming the streets. But it is also one of the oldest cultures on earth and produces a whole panorama and rainbow of characters and stories. I think it is time for the rainbow to appear in America. Even though India has the largest filmmaking industry, there have been very few filmmakers of stature among the Indian immigrants. I feel that we - the Indian community - should make films about Indians in America."

This is what Saluja is about to do. He has already chosen Roshan Seth (Mississippi Masala, Gandhi) to play the lead and will be traveling to India to screen actors for the role of Raj. It will be a lowbudget film completed in a short time. Saluja hopes to show the film at international festivals in Berlin, Cannes, Sundance and Toronto.

Saluja's story is about a culture that gets stereotyped, but he wants to get across the deeper, spiritual, poetic nature of material that tackles cultural and cross-gender issues as well. It's timely subject material should make The Journey one of the most unique releases.