Title: Decoding Deepak
Director: Gotham Chopra
A best-selling author, lifestyle coach and proponent of Eastern medicinal practices, Deepak Chopra is known to and beloved by millions. Of course, he’s also just a man — and a sometimes distant and curious one to his son, Gotham Chopra. “Decoding Deepak,” then, is a documentary devoted to unraveling a bit of the myth surrounding the public figure, as the younger Chopra follows his father for a year, chronicling his brokered ordainment as a Buddhist monk in Thailand (while not entirely successfully grappling with his Blackberry addiction) and subsequent book tour for a fictionalized autobiography of Muslim prophet Muhammad. Smart, warm-hearted and inquisitive, it digs into one of the under-examined (and ongoing) difficulties we all face — recognizing and understanding our parents as actual people, and not just a mom or dad.
Chopra recognizes and respects his father’s intelligence and drive, but his relationship with him is also leavened by skepticism, and a certain disconnection from what he eventually characterizes as Deepak’s insatiable hunger to be relevant. Like any son or daughter, he’s frustrated when his father thinks he has nothing left to learn, and he sketches out the contours of their relationship thusly: for engagement, follow him into his work, and listen to him talk about… whatever.
A lack of something to say is certainly not a condition normal to Deepak, who is adept at elegantly phrased, bite-size morsels of wisdom, and a master of wrapping philosophical poetry around terrible moments of human despair or depravity. In Gotham’s view, his father can turn “any mundane question into a talking point for a book,” so ripples of an understated adolescent longing for more personal connection come bubbling to the surface by way of his innocent needling of his dad over the lack of his books at a train station kiosk (“You’re not as popular as ‘The Secret'”) during a trip to India. Gotham also reflects upon the ever-blurry lines between family and business — life in green rooms and at weird luncheons — that, as he tracks his father and brings along his own young family at times, are now being faithfully re-created.
The film doesn’t quite crack the ineffable remoteness of its subject, but it is humanizing. The portrait that emerges is an interesting and engaging one — of Deepak as a perhaps deep but also innately restless thinker, not a phony, really, but a spiritually-minded guru who also enjoys many of the material pleasures of life. He’s a man of contradictions, like us all. This is always why he can be seen as pondering the big questions of life, while still obsessed with a contentious “Nightline” debate with professional skeptic Michael Shermer from months earlier.
As a kind of well-captured travelogue, “Decoding Deepak” is of course quite specifically about its namesake subject, but it also has a much wider reach and sense of reflection and purpose than that. The film actually shares a good deal in common with Doug Block’s superb, little seen 2009 documentary “The Kids Grow Up,” and Agnès Varda’s better known, Los Angeles Film Critics Association’s Best Documentary-winning “The Beaches of Agnès,” both of which were highly reflective nonfiction self-portraits refracted through the lens of modern parenting, and by degrees about the difficult but necessary notion of evolving familial relationships. If life is about answering but a few questions and the process of discovering more and more with which to grapple, “Decoding Deepak” suitably captures that.
NOTE: In addition to its theatrical engagements, “Decoding Deepak” is also available on VOD platforms. For more information on the movie, and to view its trailer, visit www.SnagFilms.com/DecodingDeepak/.
Written by: Brent Simon
A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Brent Simon is a three-term president of LAFCA, a contributor to Screen International and Magill's Cinema Annual, and film editor of H Magazine. He cannot abide a world without U2 and pizza.