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Piven plays against type

The actor takes a break from L.A. with a `Journey of a Lifetime.' An entourage tagged along with him to India.

April 03, 2006|Paul Brownfield | Times Staff Writer

In "Jeremy Piven's Journey of a Lifetime" -- not to be confused with "Jeremy Piven's Unforgettable Parking Ticket" or "Jeremy Piven's Unreasonable Request" -- the actor who plays the super-desperate super-agent Ari Gold on the HBO comedy "Entourage" goes to India to find his inner Hindu and connect with humanity in ways you simply can't over lunch at the Grill.

This is a documentary of sorts on Discovery's Travel Channel. Tonight, in Part 1, which focuses on southern India (Part 2 on the north debuts next Monday), we see Piven visit Project Crayons, a shelter home and educational center for kids in Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay), connect with his Semitic roots in a place actually called Jew Town, and tool around the southern coast on a Moped, by which time he has gone native, although his look seems less Indian than Che Guevara by way of Fred Segal.

Piven's "Journey" comes from the same metaphorical travel agency that booked Sean Penn's recent journey to Iran and Angelina Jolie's appearance at the World Economic Forum conference in Davos, Switzerland. To be fair, Penn wrote up his trip as a reportorial dispatch in the San Francisco Chronicle (what he calls "tournalism" in a New Yorker profile out this month), while Jolie was less on a vacation than a global mission.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday April 05, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction
"Journey of a Lifetime": A review of the Travel Channel program "Jeremy Piven's Journey of a Lifetime" in Monday's Calendar section misspelled Mumbai's Juhu Beach as Juju Beach.

Piven's on vacation. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Who among us wouldn't want a trip to India on Discovery's dime? And if the trip sounds like an "Entourage" subplot (Ari vanishes to India after "Aquaman" tanks at the box office), Piven seems in on the joke.

"I'm gonna be like the Eastern European Jewish Dave Chappelle. 'What happened to Jeremy? He went to India,' " he jokes after landing in Kerala and kicking back on a houseboat, which he aptly describes as "pimped-out floating hotels."

Piven's interest in India and Indian culture doesn't seem insincere; he's into meditation and yoga and Indian objets d'art, and he's genuinely moved at the orphanage.

And yet, at the same time, it's hard to hold back your cynicism: From the unapologetic days of "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" and its spin-off "Runaway With the Rich and Famous," we have arrived at a grungier version, more in tune with these global times, in which the subject (and his camera crew and assorted off-screen wranglers) gets away by heading into the heart of some far-flung place and comes back with a tale to tell.

I suppose it's a kind of evolution -- the sneak peek inside Linda Evans' spread, now years later having morphed into a Rough Guide version, where the life experience instead of the gatehouse is held up as the object of envy. Throughout, Piven remains pretty deferential and attuned to the locals (much bowing) while enduring the crushing humidity and clamor of Mumbai. He's not giving back, really, but he's taking with relative dignity.

In Mumbai, Piven hooks up with two makeup artists from a friend's movie and visits a bazaar, where he has his fortune read ("Should I pursue my spiritual ways or should I pursue my acting?" he asks, and the news is good: Do both).

The women take him to Juju Beach, a nearby getaway from the teeming city. "There's like an innate spirituality here that's very thick," he says.

But it isn't until he hops a plane to the southern coast and Kerala that he finally seems in his element, his days spent wandering from village to village and perfecting his sun salutation vinyasa.

You don't get to see where Piven actually stayed in Kerala, but I got the sense that it was nice, just based on the towel he used to wipe off the perspiration after his private yoga lesson amid the trees. By the time he's ventured deep into the jungle to witness a Kathakali troupe perform a century's old theater dance at night and discussed the conundrum of fame versus art with one of the performers, you trust he's learned enough to continue on, the same but different.


`Jeremy Piven's Journey of a Lifetime'

Where: Travel Channel

When: 9 tonight

Ratings: TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children)

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