Film Review: Decoding Deepak

Glossy tribute from a son to his eminent guru of a papa is not so different, even with all that spirituality, from recent film portraits of Katy Perry and Justin Bieber.

In trying to further understand the wildly successful conundrum that is his father, Deepak, Gotham Chopra has made one very elaborate home movie, set in a variety of dreamy locales. His stated intent was not to make some sort of “Daddy Dearest” expose, but instead reveal something about what makes this world-famous guru, author of some 50 books and spiritual healer to millions, tick, and also come to terms with an often-absent parent in ambitious pursuit of his vaunted mission.

Training his camera squarely on dear old Dad, the younger Chopra follows him from his home base of Manhattan where he launches a media blitz for his latest book about Mohammed, to Thailand where he is being ordained as an honorary Buddhist monk, to Tokyo, yet one more scene of rapturous adulation. Decoding Deepak is a breathless, heady ride, and devotees will probably adore this rock-star-like depiction of their idol. More skeptical souls, given the surface-y treatment here, may well question the precise reasons for the man’s success, which can seem to be based on woozily New Age, generalized aphorisms which flow out of his mouth like lava from an active volcano. “Where’s the ‘I’ that exists everywhere? The whole universe is in me. It’s a journey across time and space. I am the movement of the Earth and the spiraling of the stars and so are you. This realization has conquered the illusion of life and death.” And so on.

The problem here is that director Chopra, although he affects a snarky, perpetually questioning adolescent view of his father, mentioning his love of five-star hotel luxury while on a starkly spiritual journey, a BlackBerry obsession and feeling bereft without an audience, doesn’t delve deeply enough. In Thailand, for example, he doesn’t really ask any of the many monks involved in the ceremony their true opinions of Dad. Instead, we get Deepak pontificating, “There is an elegance in their simplicity. It’s not getting away from God, but getting closer to Him.”

When they shave his head, Deepak, with his trademark, flashy rhinestone glasses and red sneakers, uncannily resembles Peter Sellers in one of his ethnic modes. Other starry presences are more literally evoked, like his fans Lady Gaga, Russell Simmons, early champion Oprah Winfrey and the late Michael Jackson, another initial follower and friend of Gotham, who observes that the music superstar’s spiritual evolution was not enough to save him from himself.

Deepak Chopra’s skeptical dissenters are also featured, but cursorily; one would have liked, at least in the interest of variety, to see some real debate going on. What we do get is a focus on his friend Dr. David Stein, who discovers that he has a fatal brain tumor, prompting the statement, “We’re all on death row, with the only questions being the method of execution and the possibility of a reprieve.” It’s words like these which bring undeniable comfort to his legions of the loyal, which are, of course, heavily featured throughout. Lots and lots of well-heeled white people are shown embracing him, calling him “a big Teddy Bear” all around the world, but especially in that particular Choprak-ian Ground Zero, the Red Rock territory of Sedona, New Mexico, where mass yoga sessions are shown, as well as all the paraphernalia—the books, healing oils, chakra devices, et al.—so essential to this world.

The doc includes family footage, with a special emphasis on Gotham’s adorable little son Krishna, gadding about Manhattan with Grandpa who, the film would almost have you believe, is not above regularly riding the subway. Deepak’s daughter and wife also appear, but momentarily, and one dearly wants to hear a lot more from the latter about what life is really like for her.

The film’s strongest scene is a quiet moment between father and son, away from all that disconcerting media glitterati hubbub, which both obviously revel in. Here, the elder Choprak, admittedly a master performer, seems to shed his Holiest Man persona for a moment, emerging as humble withal, when he says, “People who say I’ve changed their lives were probably ready to change. I am just the midwife. I said what I needed to say and I did it well, so I’m happy.”