Snag Films is known for releasing poignant and thought-provoking non-fiction films and “Decoding Deepak” is no exception.
Deepak Chopra has had a remarkable 25 year career as a spiritual leader and self-help guru. But few are familiar with his relatable and down-to-earth side. But a new documentary, now in theaters and available on VOD, aims to change that. Directed by Chopra’s journalist son Gotham, “Decoding Deepak” is a refreshing look at the pop-culture icon’s everyday life as well as his relationship with his family.
Filmed over the course their year-long travels throughout the world, it illustrates an extraordinary father/son relationship. From the monasteries of Thailand to the streets of New York City, “Decoding Deepak” is profoundly moving.
Moviehole had the chance to ask both Deepak and Gotham Chopra about the making of the film.
Are those that have seen “Decoding Deepak” surprised by how relatively normal you are?
People have a tendency to create images that are more about their expectations and they’re surprised if you laugh a lot. Most of them say they loved it. The film hasn’t been out much but the few that have seen it say that they have enjoyed it.
When watching the footage Gotham shot, did you begin to understand your family differently?
We’re a very simple, natural, straight forward family and everything that you see in the film is the conversation in our family. We’re all very comfortable with who we are and we kid around a lot, we laugh, joke a lot, and tease each other a lot. So there was nothing surprising for me in the film.
How did the film affect your relationship with Gotham?
It was fun traveling with him but it was exasperating sometimes to have a camera in your face all the time but other than that it was rather fun. Especially going to all of these places–particularly to India to visit the place where they have the records of our ancestors.
Did you learn more about your son’s perspective while making the film?
I was aware of his perspective. He used to kid around about me not taking him to Red Sox games (because I was traveling so much). I think that when he saw the records of our ancestors that have come and gone that it was clear that there’s more to life than Red Sox games (laughs).
I think that this film may have been part of his therapy.
Based on the beginning of the film, it’s clear that Gotham struggled to find his own voice until he became a journalist. How did you help him do that?
Well I have always told him that he should be his own person. He’s very creative. The war journalism did make us nervous because he was in Pakistan right before 9/11 but we didn’t want to interfere with him. That was a bit uncomfortable for us. He was in places like Afghanistan and Chechnya–all the violent places in the world but he wanted to do that. He wanted to move away from the world of comfort he was born into.
For 25 years you’ve essentially nurtured the world. Do you ever find that you neglect yourself?
In the movie, part of Gotham’s editing makes me seem restless and as though I’m on my Blackberry all the time. I’m not like that most of the time. I do meditate every day for almost two hours. I sleep well and I try to be with my gran kids as much as I can.
Overall, I do take care of myself.
In an attempt to move out of your father’s shadow, you discovered a love of journalism. How did that come about?
When I was in college (which is shown briefly in the film) I actually published my first book while I was still a student. I have no delusions about it anymore; I got that publishing contract because it was from one of my father’s publishers. I obviously took advantage of that. But I think for a while I really struggled to break out and find my own voice.
My first real job out of college was with Channel One (the news network that’s broadcast in schools all over the country). Even there, when I was hired I think there was a certain desire to do more human interest stories and softer stuff. I pleaded with the powers at be to travel overseas, to go to war zones and conflict areas because for me that was the farthest thing from the Chopra universe that I could think of.
It was an important process for me to go through and see, especially having grown up in a pretty privileged family, there’s always been and continues to be sort of a struggle between the philosophy that my father articulates and the real world and the problems that exist in it. That would be for me the defining period in my life that really helped me find my voice.
How was making the film therapeutic for you?
Someone recently said to my father, ‘I heard you’re son made a movie about you,’ and he said, ‘No he made a movie about himself.’ Upon further reflection, I think that’s very true. At a very personal level, this film for me was about resolving who my father is to the world and to the public versus who he is to me. It was also about answering questions about what motivated him and what led him to make the decisions that he did when I was growing up.
I’m a parent now and I think I’m glad I made this movie now and not ten years ago because I’m at a place in my personal life and maturity where the biggest thing to me is asking, ‘What kind of parent do I want to be.’
How would you say that the film has affected the relationship that you have with your father?
My father and I are very close. We were very close before the movie and through the movie and now I think we have a great relationship and we’ve gotten to the point where we’re friends.
I’ve gotten to a point in my life where my priority is my family—my son and being a parent. I think that in that regard, I’ve gained a certain appreciation and admiration for my father that is independent of my own personal feelings. I can look and see what he’s accomplished and how many people’s lives he’s helped change for the better and appreciate that and respect that. I can look at how hard he works and admire that. I’m over the whole ‘he didn’t show up to my soccer game’ thing (laughs). By the way, that’s so not unique to the Chopra universe. That’s one of the responses I’ve been getting a lot from people. A lot of people have said, ‘That reminds me so much of my relationship with my father.’
Do you think the film will make him more relatable?
I think that the movie is pretty authentic and honest. I didn’t seek out to make him relatable, he is relatable.
Especially since he has an addiction to his Blackberry.
Calling it an addiction seems so over the top (laughs) because being addicted to your blackberry and being addicted to Starbucks is hardly destructive. The truth is that he’s had far more serious addictions in the past, which he’s been candid about and alluded to in the film. Perhaps that’s what makes him so relatable.
I think, though others can judge for themselves, that he’s a grounded and real human being with relatable addictions and issues. To some extent, that’s what makes his message more powerful because it shows that he’s still in quest of some of these ideas. He hasn’t perfected them and as much as he’s giving people answers, he’s still sort of a seeker.
It’s clear that your father is a talker and you’re a listener, how did that affect the overall film?
It was a challenge for me– to be honest. One of the things that I realized is that what makes my father successful as an author and a teacher is that he doesn’t have these dramatic highs and lows, he’s a balanced guy. There’s not much drama in his life—which allows him to be very successful. On the other hand, for cinema you need characters with conflict.
To some extent, I had to insert myself into the film as a character who could have more of an arc. Anytime that he was off in never never land, I’d thrust him back. He’s that playful and irreverent for the most part but there’s certainly some tension there. That was a learning process and I think it comes across in the film.