Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator (Eva Orner, 2019, USA)

             Eva Orner’s Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator is a succinct and illuminating expose of Bikram Yoga founder Bikram Choudhury. The film traces Choudhury’s origins from his tutelage under instructor Bishnu Charan Ghosh as a student in Calcutta, to driving Bentleys in Hollywood atop a multimillion dollar empire. Bikram’s particular routine of hot yoga (which he didn’t originally create) became and still is a significant phenomenon, drawing hundreds of thousands of participants and accolades from top celebrities. Since the accusations of sexual assault against Choudhury, many Bikram practices have simply rebranded as “hot yoga”.

            Orner unfolds the film in such a way that Choudhury’s larger-than-life persona is – over the course of the film – revealed to be a large scam. Even Choudhury’s origin stories – winning a national yoga championship in India, healing Richard Nixon’s pain while he was on retreat in Hawaii – are revealed to be falsehoods. It is hard to believe that so many people have fallen for his lies, although the film makes clear that the practice he introduced did in fact help many people. Some of the interviewees still support him, and Choudhury – though wanted as a criminal in the United States – is still giving large seminars around the world.

            While Bikram is by no means perfect, and some of its revelations are not altogether so surprising, Orner’s film is nevertheless entertaining. At a breezy 90 minutes, it rarely exceeds its welcome. While some might complain that the film is a little too cut-and-dried, it nevertheless demonstrates how Choudhury was able to amass a huge following, and also how he was able to manipulate people under the guise of helping their careers. While the film leaves Choudhury’s ultimate future open-ended, it still serves as a stark warning about the potential dangers behind anyone who labels themselves a guru and the need to be skeptical.

 

7/10 

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