Gotham Chopra is a journalist and filmmaker. He is also the son of spiritual icon Deepak Chopra. In his new documentary Decoding Deepak, Chopra follows his father over the course of a year to decipher the ‘real’ man behind the public figure who is followed by so many across the globe. The documentary, distributed by Snag Films, opens in select U.S. cinemas on October 5. Gotham spoke to Kylie Boltin on the eve of his film’s release.
What was the most unexpected aspect of working with your father?
How detached my father really is. I don’t necessarily mean that as a criticism, in fact it’s like I almost envy that quality in him. Despite his millions of fans and followers, despite his critics, my dad’s pretty detached. Even at a personal level, even from his family he’s emotionally detached although he’s certainly very attached to his grandchildren. Ten years ago that probably would have really bothered me; emotionally it would have hurt me, but now I get it. I’m not there myself but I can appreciate it.
How did you react to Deepak's feeling of being detached from his children but not his grandchildren?
I’ve only started to notice it because people have brought it up. In that moment, it was no enormous revelation to me. Here is the irony: I have a great relationship with my father, we had fun doing the film. If anything this process has given me is a greater admiration of how hard he works and how many people he has touched. We have this great relationship but I do reflect on that moment and think, did he just say that? It’s not as surprising to me as it is to other people. He does walk his talk in that regard. There’s a lot of other stuff that’s pointed out in the film that is a contradiction to what he represents and his philosophy, but there are certainly qualities that really are on point. That’s one of them.
In the film we see that Deepak’s life is highly scheduled. He travels endlessly. Was this an unusual period of time for you in that you were able to spend such an extended period of time with your father?
We’re very close but certainly going on the road for that amount of time, going to the places we went and doing what were doing, was unique. For the most part, it was enjoyable and interesting. There are moments of frustration, and that’s captured in the film as well.
It's funny - recently someone mentioned to my father that he’d heard I’d made a film about him. My father turned and looked at this man and said, “No, my son made a movie about himself.” I think that’s true because all films and stories are ultimately about the storyteller and what they’re trying to express. That’s definitely the case for me. Personally and professionally I’m finding new ways to express myself; tell new stories. One thing I've learnt from the movie is that as successful as my father is, he’s largely a product of the times that we live in. There is a hunger right now for spiritual substance. People have questions and they’re not satisfied by what they’re hearing in their church or synagogue. He, and others – but most notably him in my world – have become the symbol of that search. As much as it’s about him on one level and me on another level, I think it’s also about his audience.
He certainly is a phenomenon – something that you show to full effect in the documentary. What do you think will be his lasting legacy?
I think he’ll have a pretty powerful legacy. My father comes from a tradition of Indian, for lack of a better word, Gurus who have come from the east to the west and brought with them wisdom and traditions. As strange as it is for me to say, as I even associate the Guru to the Beatles with long hair, robes, sandals etc., it’s so not my father, but on the other hand if you listen to what he’s saying, it’s not very different. It’s all drawn from the same source. What is different is that my father is a trained scientist, he’s a physician. It’s ironic because his critics say he’s a charlatan, he’s this and that but he’s a man of science and logic. The other thing is physically – he doesn’t have the long hair, the sandals, and the robes. He has what he has - the red sneakers, his beaded glasses and digital media. In the past I would meet people who had read his book, now I meet people who follow him on Twitter or Facebook. That’s their exposure to him. That’s certainly unique to him; his predecessors have not had that. It will definitely impact his legacy.
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