The title of this article is one I thought about long and hard about and I have often thought that though Indian cinema has a rich cultural diversity and heritage, the reality is that it is hard to find spirituality being explored as a theme in modern independent Indian cinema. Beyond Bollywood, Indian independent cinema explores many different themes of oppression, poverty, hard-nosed reality, and other related themes. However, spirituality is rarely the subject of exploration.
When I heard about Decoding Deepak (which was featured at SXSW and, most recently, the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles) for the first time, I was very much intrigued, not only because the subject matter of one of the most famous modern day Spiritual Gurus of our era, but that we were being offered this glimpse at the renown spiritual guru from a source closest to knowing him the best, his son Gotham Chopra.
As such this article is not a review of the film, but an article to explore the depths of where we are spiritually speaking and this author’s opinion that even though India, and Indian themes and content in the form of cinema, has evolved into a global product, somewhere along the way this hasn’t translated into cinema. Spiritual themes seem to be absent. The reality of globalization and Westernization is upon us and so more and more it seems we are finding spirituality in the West – and specifically in the United States – to fuel our desire to explore more about our consciousness and self-development.
Having said all of that, there is already a very healthy and developed spiritual marketplace of commerce, where everything from Sanskrit, yoga and meditation is for sale at a premium in the form of packages, escapes, vacations and “experiences of a lifetime,” it is in fact refreshing to see that the inspiration behind Decoding Deepak, was well NOT motivated by it.
Sure, the film’s central character is probably one of the most prolific and recognizable spiritual cultural icons, but the motivation by filmmaker and son Gotham Chopra refreshingly comes from the perspective of exploring what his father represents and, beyond that, an honest look into all aspects and facets of Deepak Chopra the spiritual guru, the father, grandfather and human being.
I sat down with Gotham Chopra to explore more about the motivations, experiences, and a frank discussion about all of the curious questions you may have wanted to ask. I hope you enjoy the article, which I found to be as refreshing as the subject matter itself.
Harish Rao: Why did you decide now to follow your father and do this documentary?
Gautam Chopra: For me I never set out to make a spiritual film and the film attempts to answer (what is spirituality) and my father has become this spiritual icon and for me it was about pulling that apart and trying to reconcile this strange spiritual cultural icon he has become to the world and to the Lady Gagas of the world versus who he is really and what he is interested in and where he is going and who he is a person I grew up around and my sister grew up around. So I think spirituality is the state of awareness and for me this film is an exploration of that. And, in general, Indian cinema is undergoing an amazing transformation right now, as all the different genre space opens up and so we are seeing gangster, thriller, romantic comedies which is really moving away from the traditional song and dance Bollywood scene. So, it’s a really exciting time to be part of the Indian cinema movement whatever that is.
HR: People have their own relationship with Deepak Chopra from books, programs, etc., so I would be remiss if I did not ask you on behalf of countless fans of Mr. Chopra: what is it like growing up with him.
GC: First of all it’s a lot of fun. One of my father’s admirable qualities is that he is CURIOUS. He will tell you that he is an explorer of consciousness. Despite the fact that he is a man that (literally) millions of people come too seeking answers from. He is asking questions, he is still asking questions. Like a lot of Indian gurus or spiritual teachers and its even awkward for me to say that, but he does fit the profile. He may look different (sans the robes and the long beard and all of that) but he does come from the tradition of Indian gurus.
And like a lot of them my father is this mirror. He is who you want him to be, so he has his share of critics but not unlike the "OSHO’S" of the past or the "MARSHI’S" of the past. My father is somebody who a lot of people in him see what they aspire to be to some extent. So I think he has become that.
For me, he’s my dad and he wasn’t always the spiritual (man) and even now, he is not necessarily (that guy). He breaks a lot of conceptions of people have of him and (people have) of our family. I am incredibly close to my father, I have talked to him probably two dozen times today, and that’s the type of relationship I have always had with him.
It is a little bit strange to pull back a little bit and that’s what the film does to look at who this person is to the world as opposed to who he is to those of us who think we know him.
HR: Whose idea was this film? Maybe you can shed some light and insight on the making of the film?
GC: It was definitely more my idea, I think my father, through the years has had dozens of proposals come his way for people wanting to make movies out of him and he would generally forward them to me and say ‘What do you think?’ and I would generally look at them and say that ultimately they would do you a disservice because they would celebrate all of your achievements but they really wouldn’t explore who you really are and what you are interested in.
So, it started out more with me wanting to put on film a little bit of the journey on who this man was, and I’m a dad now, and I think this is where it was motivated. Then it grew from there, became larger and found somebody who wanted to make it a big feature film and here we are.
HR: For Gotham Chopra the filmmaker, you have done many things from graphic novels, feature films and now a documentary film, would you say that your father’s spiritual path is influencing your own path? How do you see the parallels there and how do you distinguish yourself from your father?
GC: I’m a storyteller, and I have had the good fortune of working in a lot of different creative industries from journalism, to being an entrepreneur and starting a comic book company to writing fiction and non-fiction books and producing movies. For me, this latest incarnation of directing a documentary film is a different medium, but it is a storytelling medium and in that way I am very similar to my father.
He is somebody who has written 65 books and he has stayed fairly consistent in what he does in terms f his subject matter. For him the books are just another expression of his curiosity and creativity. For me that is also the case. Films are not so much about the plot of the movie as they are about the filmmaker and what it is n their life they are trying to resolve, so for me this is definitely the same. This film (for me) is not only about who my father is but also what he represents in terms of people needing to find meaning, purpose, significance in a world that is pretty crazy and we are all connected. We are all acutely aware of what is going on in the world.
HR: You mentioned film, and you did the Hollywood route for many years, and now this documentary. Where does Gotham Chopra go from here?
GC: I think (I am) going through an evolution. I have enjoyed pretty much everything I have done until date. I am been lucky to work with amazing creative partners. This film in some ways is a bit of a different experience, small budget documentary. You really get your hands on every piece of the film. We are working on distribution. I intend to do more films. I am looking to do a scripted movie in India. I think one thing I have learned from my father is not to have too many expectations. I have goals, but I also stay pretty flexible and I go where the adventure takes me. I am excited in general about the great opportunities that are opening up in India but also in this new direction of Indian cinema, which is global and is authentic to the spirit of India but it is not limited to the Indian market. I think even the stuff we are doing on the comic book side is shifting our attention back to India and the opportunities there.