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Newsmaker: Harish Saluja / Local film producer a believer in the arts

Monday, September 29, 2003

By Adrian McCoy, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Harish Saluja's career path has many interesting forks and intersections: The producer/director, whose film "The Journey" is running at the Regent Square Theater, is also an engineer, publisher, radio host and abstract painter, and is currently heading an effort to attract Indian companies to the Pittsburgh area.

Harish Saluja

Saluja grew up in a family and culture in which the arts and science were equally important. His father was a biology professor and his mother a classical singer, writer and poet.

In his university years, the engineering school he attended placed a strong emphasis on the arts. Students were involved with performing in orchestras and with painting exhibitions.

"I had always been doing these things. To me, it's the way to live. I grew up with the understanding that one must be using both sides of the brain," he said.

While in college, he had something of an epiphany while watching Satyajit Ray's "Teen Kanya," known in English as "Two Daughters" or "Three Daughters."

"Here's a film in a language I didn't understand, which is Bengali, no subtitles, and I'm watching this, and I'm crying," Saluja said. "Being a scientific person, I wanted to analyze how did somebody get to me like this? And I wanted to learn how to affect people so emotionally. This is what I'm trying to do in art -- I'm trying to provoke people."

The next day, he rode his bicycle in the rain to sit through the film again.


Name: Harish Saluja

Year of birth: 1946

Place of birth: Multan, part of undivided India

In the news: His well-received 1997 film "The Journey" is in the middle of a weeklong run at the Regent Square Theater.

Quote: "Film was a combination and a culmination of all the other arts -- photography, painting, composition, storytelling, acting, writing, music. Here I could combine all those things, and move people."

Education: I.I.T. India, bachelor's degree in engineering

Family: Wife, Jane


"I realized that film was a combination and a culmination of all the other arts -- photography, painting, composition, storytelling, acting, writing, music. Here I could combine all those things, and move people," he said.

Saluja came to the United States and settled in Pittsburgh in 1971 to work as assistant editor on two technical journals.

In 1972, he began hosting "Music From India" on WDUQ-FM (90.5), now one of the longest-running radio programs in the market. The two-hour weekly program that airs Sundays at 7 p.m. is supported by listener contributions.

His co-host is Dr. Vijay Bahl, who has a private practice in internal medicine and endocrinology, and who has been with "Music From India" since 1985. Both volunteer their time and share their large collections of recorded Indian music with listeners.

"Music is extremely important to Indian society. It is part of the fabric of life -- festivals, births, weddings, funerals," Saluja said.

Much of what they play includes music from films.

"Until recently, pop music [in India] used to be film music. All that is changing now," he said. "Music From India" also features classical Indian music, and, of late, some newer music: a fusion of influences from British, American and Spanish music.

While India has a huge domestic film industry, Saluja wants to make films here about the Indian experience in America. He wrote, produced and directed his first feature film, "The Journey," which is running through Thursday at the Regent Square Theater. Saluja will be at tomorrow evening's screening to answer questions from the audience.

"The Journey," made in 1997 and filmed entirely in the Pittsburgh area, was funded by Saluja's savings and support from investors. It's a sometimes comic look at the cultural clashes that occur when a widower from India moves in with his son, who is a Pittsburgh doctor, and his American daughter-in-law.

It stars well-known Indian actors Roshan Seth and Saeed Jaffrey, both of whom previously appeared in "My Beautiful Laundrette." Seth plays the father, and Jaffrey plays a character not unlike Saluja, who hosts an Indian music program on radio. The WDUQ studios were used for those scenes.

"The Journey" made the rounds of about 30 film festivals here and abroad, was distributed in India and earned favorable response from critics.

Saluja was associate producer on Tony Buba's "No Pets" and executive producer on "Dog Eat Dog," and has acted in commercials, industrial films and the film "Money for Nothing."

His production company, New Ray Film, is named for Satyajit Ray, who had such an early influence on him.

He's now working on a new film, "Chasing Windmills," which he plans to shoot at the private school in the Himalayas that he attended. Saluja describes it as a traditional hero's journey, in which a writer who wins a Pulitzer Prize for his work suddenly gives up everything and disappears, ending up in India.

Saluja's vibrant modernist paintings have been shown locally at Mendelson Gallery, in New York City and outside the United States. They often reflect his musical interests -- as in his "Jazz Series" paintings.

These days, Saluja is focusing a lot of time and energy on his work as executive director of TiE Pittsburgh, an organization whose goal is to attract Indian firms looking to set up U.S. offices. TiE's strategy includes bringing heads of Indian technology firms and other businesses to Pittsburgh for day trips, introducing them to helpful contacts and giving them a firsthand look at what the city has to offer.

Saluja also hopes to use his film industry connections to attract Indian film production here.

"It will be cheaper to shoot here," he said. "Pittsburgh is much more interesting. We have crews that can work for you. We're hoping that we can put Pittsburgh on their radar."

He teaches a course on film and world culture at the University of Pittsburgh.

"I'm one of those fools who actually believes firmly that love and understanding and communication can be spread through the arts. Sitting here making judgment on a community in the Middle East or Korea or Japan is not kosher," Saluja said. "I can show a film from New Zealand or Guatemala or China or Argentina, and that opens a window to that culture."

Although the classes also discuss film technique, that's secondary, Saluja said.

"Slowly you can see an understanding develop. It's wonderful to see young people trying to answer these questions. It's wonderful to see lights go on."

Adrian McCoy can be reached .

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