In Decoding Deepak, filmmaker Gotham Chopra embarks on a quest to understand and deconstruct the myth surrounding his famous father, the spiritual guru and bestselling author, Deepak Chopra. What do his followers see in him? And are they, in fact, seeing the real Deepak? Over the course of the film, two versions of Deepak are exposed: The global self-help icon, acclaimed physician, and author of over 65 books (nineteen of which landed on the New York Times bestseller list), and the regular man—the one found snoring during a meditation session at a Thai monastery, the one inseparable from his Blackberry, and the one whose great pleasure comes from sharing a slice of Starbucks banana bread with his grandson. I recently sat down with both Deepak and Gotham in Los Angeles (where Deepak was promoting his latest book, God: A Story of Revelation), where we talked about the nature of God, consciousness, alternate dimensions, and, of course, Twitter.
How long did it take to make this movie?
Gotham: I was on the road for more or less about a year following my dad around. A lot of it happened in the editing process.
Did a lot of it end up on the cutting room floor?
Gotham: Yeah, there’s probably over 100 hours of stuff that we shot over the course of that time. I interviewed Larry for the movie and it never ended up in the cut.
Why? Because it wasn’t relevant?
Gotham: Yeah, because it ultimately became a movie about a road trip which is a tried and true structure, and anything that happened off the road trip just didn’t fit the structure of the film.
Deepak, was it an exhausting process to have a camera on you for that long?
Deepak: Yes, it’s exhausting.
It felt like you were very good-natured about it. Was that because you were doing this for your son?
Deepak: That’s me. I’m a good-natured person.
Many people have perceived this film as a sort of negative unpicking by a son of his father. Yet I saw this film as ultimately a human journey that results in understanding and togetherness. What are your thoughts?
Deepak: You see the world as you see yourself. That’s how you see the movie, as you see yourself. It’s a good commentary on you. Everybody has a different reaction to everything. Perception is so personal.
How do you feel your relationship has changed throughout the course of making this documentary?
Gotham: I think that we’ve always been very close, and spending a year on the road together was for the most part a lot of fun. But if anything, I’m a father now, and I’ve gained a deeper respect for my father almost from an objective place. Everything he’s accomplished, how many people’s lives he’s touched. And I’ve also gained a greater appreciation for his audience. I always kind of looked at it as some sort of peculiar thing—Oh, they didn’t really understand him. But I think, in a way, they probably understood him better than me because I’m so biased with this subjective lens.
What did you think they didn’t understand about him?
Gotham: My father has an expression he uses quite often, which is, “If I point to the moon, worship the moon, not my finger.” We build images of people and we try to force those people to live up to those images, and if the person doesn’t, we blame the person. And I think for a long time, mostly because of this culture of spirituality and self-help and new age, there’s an expectation amongst many of his followers that “Oh, he lives his life a certain way,” which isn’t accurate. Not that I wanted to destroy that, but for me it was important, even just personally, to reconcile these two different impressions of him.
One of the things I got from this film was the idea that we are able to balance our family and our personal lives, with our ambitions and aspirations. How do you achieve this balance?
Deepak: I’m at a stage in my life where I just do what’s fun. That’s it. And I do it with people that I think are fun, and I do it because I think it will make a difference. We are a very easy family. We have fun, we’re loose, there’s a lot of humor, we’re comfortable with paradox, ambiguity, contradiction, all of that. So to me, being spiritual means not some holier-than-thou, self-righteous morality—which is just jealously with a halo—but being surprised by life, being astonished that we exist, and being perpetually in a state of gratitude, joy, and humour. And the movie brings that out, I think.
Is there any kind of daily spiritual practice that you follow?
Deepak: I do meditate every morning. Quite a bit actually—an hour and a half, two hours a morning. I try and get in a sun salutation or a few sun salutations in the morning, and exercise. I meditate again for thirty minutes in the afternoon. And the rest of the day I just go with the flow. I write a lot. That keeps me busy.
Gotham: I learnt to meditate when I was five years old, and so I have practiced it consistently pretty much since then. And then I think what I’ve learned from my father, probably not perfected as well as he has, I try to focus on what gives me fulfilment and what makes me happy and what I’m good at.
You explained in the film that you kind of strayed from this path, that you have been through a journey of questioning. When you went through that Gotham, did you turn your back on meditation and spiritual practice?
Gotham: Yeah, it’s certainly not been consistent. I’m 37 now. I mean certainly, going through adolescence, going through my college years, there was certainly just the normal rebellious years.
It’s really hard to wake up and meditate with a hangover.
Gotham: (Laughs) Yes. Although it is also a good antidote for a hangover. But yeah, I’ve gone through all the normal things. Though I’m fortunate not to have gone through some of the extreme versions.