Bikram Yogi, Guru, Predator cast: Bikram Choudhury
Bikram Yogi, Guru, Predator director: Eva Orner
Bikram Yogi, Guru, Predator rating: 3 stars
Bikram Choudhury, better known as the man who introduced the fad called ‘Hot Yoga’ to the West, is the subject of Netflix’s latest documentary Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator and much like the name, you see these multiple versions of the man through the 86 minute documentary.
The film opens with Bikram making claims that his students include the likes of Elvis Presley, President Richard Nixon, Frank Sinatra, George Harrison and how he was gifted the green card visa by the ex-President because of his impressive Yoga treatments. This makes you sit up and take notice of the yogi who made Yoga a huge craze in the West. Let’s first acknowledge the fact that back in the day, Yoga was an eastern practice that wasn’t as global as it is now. So when he taught this to Americans, they were awestruck. This led to the making of a megalomaniac who thought himself to be a man above law and given the life he is leading now, it would be safe to say that he believes it till date.
Director Eva Orner introduces the audience to Bikram Choudhury through interviews of ex-students who swear by ‘Bikram Yoga’. His classes are tough, brutal, sweaty, but they produce results so even without any promotional activity Americans flocked to this guru when he started his Yoga school in Beverly Hills. But as we have come to learn in this cynical world, nothing is as it seems, and so was the case with Bikram Choudhury. The training camps organised by him allegedly led to sexual assaults, rapes, and like many other #MeToo cases, here too, women had no option but to stay quiet to save their livelihood.
In the one-and-a-half-hour documentary, director Eva builds up the myth of the guru and then slowly breaks it down to reveal his ‘ugly side’. He drives around in Bentleys and Rolls Royces and lives the high life while hobnobbing with Hollywood glitterati. But beneath it all, this is a predator in the garb of a guru. In his old interviews, he claims he sleeps only one hour every day and when it comes to women, he does not need to rape them. In his own words, ‘millions will line up voluntarily’. You really don’t need much else to arrive at a conclusion.
The accusations against Bikram came up much before the #MeToo era. So let’s just say that the public at large still liked to call the women ‘opportunistic’, and this includes a few of Bikram’s ex-students as well. We are told that his nine-week training camps had a cult-like atmosphere where Bikram behaved like a King and was treated like one. He ordered women to see him at 3 in the morning for a ‘massage’ and even had some keeping him company because he was ‘lonely’. This is a narcissistic man who is racist, foul-mouthed and treats his students like his play-things. His background is a sham, and his delusions of grandeur have led him to believe in that sham.
Director Eva Orner believes that this man must be brought to justice and spends enough time in convincing the audience that this predator deserves to be punished. Bikram faced the law when his long-time employee filed a wrongful termination suit. She won but never received a penny because Bikram fled the country. The subsequent sexual harassment lawsuits were then, just for the satisfaction of the survivors.
Since Bikram continues to be a fugitive who is still organising camps in Mexico and Spain, the documentary ends on a hopeful note. Hopeful that since the mask is off, the authorities will expedite proceedings related to him and will actually do something about the man who has been taking advantage of his powerful position for decades now.
We have seen many documentaries on similar subjects in the recent past. While the suffering of survivors is just as haunting, Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator is more about unmasking the horrors of a sick man.