Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): Two faces of a yoga guru

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Netflix documentary film “Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator”, which was released on this Wednesday, presents a very disturbing case of sexual predation revolving around a yoga guru who was once quite popular for many years in US. While it is interesting to observe how quickly he rose to fame and success as drawing lots of followers eager to learn and improve themselves, the documentary also gives us a number of harrowing moments as listening to several different people who were influenced and then exploited by him, and I guarantee you that yoga will never look same to you after watching the documentary.

At the beginning, we get to know a bit about Bikram Choudhury and his yoga training method. After coming to US around the 1970s, this Indian guy drew lots of attention as frequently demonstrating his yoga skills on TV, and his yoga school subsequently attracted a lot of people interested in healing themselves physically and psychologically. Although his yoga training method was pretty demanding to say the least, many of those pupils of his were willing to be pushed further by him, and some of interviewees in the documentary tell us how much they were improved in many aspects as a result.

However, we cannot help but notice the rather uncomfortable aspects of Choudhury’s yoga training method. He and his pupils always went through their training sessions in hot, stuffy environment while only wearing swimsuits, and, as shown from archival footage clips and recordings, he did not hesitate from verbal harassment at all while behaving as if he were a marine drill instructor. Moreover, while his pupils sweated and panted a lot in the room temperature around 50℃ (around 120°F), he usually sat on a big throne above them, which was incidentally equipped with an air conditioner.

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Anyway, more people kept coming for learning yoga from Choudhury because what he sold them did mostly work as much as he promised to them, and his yoga training business grew and advanced a lot during next two decades. Around the late 1990s, he routinely supervised 9-week training sessions for anyone who wanted to be a yoga teacher, and those people did not mind at all paying him no less than $10,000 for that. Thanks to this big business success, Choudhury and his family lived in a big house in Beverly Hills, and he frequently showed off his fame and success in public while basked in his extravagant lifestyle along with his family.

However, as already shown to us from the very beginning of the documentary, Choudhury turned out to have dirty rotten sides behind his charisma and flamboyance. In case of one female interviewee in the documentary, she tells us about how he approached to her more than once in very inappropriate ways, and two other female interviewees respectively recollect their traumatic experiences caused by his sexually predatory behaviors.

Not so surprisingly, they and many other victims of Choudhury were usually silenced by people around him. While his wife had turned a blind eye to what her husband was doing behind his back just because she did not want to give up her luxurious life, other people benefiting from him in one way or other did not believe these women’s claims much as being under his considerable influence, and some of them even accused these women of lying.

Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator_Bikram instructs his students.

Although he is mainly presented via archival footage clips and recordings, it is pretty clear to us that Choudhury is nothing but a scoundrel who is also a sexual predator intoxicated with power and dominance, and we are not so shocked to see that many things claimed by him are not true at all. For example, he was never a yoga champion in his country, and there was not even any yoga competition around that time. While he did study under a respected yoga guru in Mumbai, what he claimed to be his own yoga training method was more or less than what he learned from that yoga guru, and we get a little amusing moment involved with one of the pupils of that yoga guru, who is still pissed about how Choudhury deceived many people in US for years.

Ironically, things got fallen apart in the end mainly thanks to Choudhury’s sheer idiocy and megalomaniac delusion. He could have gotten himself off the hook easily when several allegations on his sexual abuse came onto the surface a few years ago, but he only came to tumble deeper into his growing trouble as clumsily and arrogantly denying everything, and then he was sued by his former legal adviser, who did not stand back at all when she was unjustly fired by him. She eventually came to throw a big blow to Choudhury and his yoga business, but then Choudhury managed to find a loophole, and, as shown at the end of the documentary, he is still in business as before.

Considering the ongoing #MeToo era, the subject of “Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator” is certainly important to say the least, and director Eva Orner did a good job of presenting Choudhury’s several victims in the documentary with enough compassion and respect. I must point out that the documentary may not inform you much if you have already watched other recent notable documentary films about sexual abuse and predation such as “Leaving Neverland” (2019) or “Untouchable” (2019), but it is still a fairly engaging documentary on the whole, so I give it mild recommendation.

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