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 technically accomplished directorial debut. Though quite predictable, this nicely executed cross-cultural, cross-generational seriocomedy deserves to be seen on the bigscreen, particularly in cities with large Indian (and other immigrant) communities.
A reworking of the classic culture-collision and fish-out-of-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 assistance of domestic help, the young couple raise their young daughter, Jenny (Nora Bates), though clearly neither has much time for her.
As soon as Kishan arrives, tensions hit the surface. For a while, pic 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” 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 while Laura resents Kishan’s disrupting presence and Raj is ambivalent about his father’s extended stay, daughter Jenny immediately takes a 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 and educating her about art and other matters. Exuding natural warmth and brimming with energy and ideas, Kishan also ingratiates himself to Laura’s single friend Audrey (Betsy Zajko), a witty artist 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 aiming for a more balanced family portrait, helmer Saluja can’t conceal the fact that Kishan is the hero here, and in the hands of such a charismatic 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 Kishan and his cynical longtime friend Ashok (Jaffrey) reminisce about their youth and college days. Probably as a result of stereotypical writing, Zaki is a bit bland as the hapless husband-doctor, and the physically appealing Preston lacks dimension.
Pic’s tech credits are appealing, particularly John Rice’s lensing of outdoor sequences, including a crucial family scene at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater.