Pick Of The Week: Bikram - Yogi, Guru, Predator
Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator’ is a crisp 90minute documentary by Academy and Emmy Award winning filmmaker Eva Orner. The film delves into the sexual assault allegations made against Bikram Choudhary, the self-professed founder of ‘Bikram Yoga.'
Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator’ is a crisp 90minute documentary by Academy and Emmy Award winning filmmaker Eva Orner. The film delves into the sexual assault allegations made against Bikram Choudhary, the self-professed founder of ‘Bikram yoga’ a form of yoga practiced within a framework of 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises, in an artificially heated room with temperatures set at a sweltering 41 degrees Celsius and humidity at 41%.
Bikram Choudhary is introduced as a ‘National yoga champion’ from India who migrated to the US in the early 70’s and immediately shot to fame due to his revolutionary new form of yoga. He claims to have miraculously healed President Nixon with this very yoga, who as a show of gratitude to Bikram gifted him a green card to the US. Choudhary himself, with much flamboyance and pride relays this story, appearing on multiple TV shows clad in his signature tight black speedos, contorting his body in never before seen postures, his obvious megalomania leaving American audiences mesmerised and entertained.
The film swiftly moves on to tracing the trajectory of his cult-like following – from his very public proclamations as a self-made healer and prophet to the opening of his hot yoga studio and teacher-training courses and eventually the franchising of 'his' particular style of yoga. It is this incredible business acumen that enables Bikram Choudhary to become a millionaire, while the teacher-training courses ensure that he has a steady crop of young and vulnerable women to prey on. Using a mix of interviews with survivors, ex-students, teachers and archival footage of Bikram’s own public appearances and deposition tapes, as well as social media videos from his classes, the film peels apart the many layers of Bikram’s larger than life personality to reveal his selfish, highly manipulative sham. It shows how his students, many of whom would arrive broken, looking for medical and spiritual guidance went from revering to fearing him, but unable to speak out against him - for almost three decades.
Today, this documentary is probably one of the most important pieces of filmmaking to come our way. Despite being successfully sued in the US for over $7 million and with a number of sexual harassment cases pending against him, Bikram Choudhary remains at large. He continues to take teacher-training courses around the world, outside of the US. In light of the conversation raging in India over what constitutes ‘justice’ when someone commits a heinous crime, this documentary is a glaring reminder of the limitations of the law and how, unless the victims are as empowered as the perpetrators, the law does not always deal an even hand. And it is this very role that the film fulfils best - uncovering the truth, giving a space and voice to victims and supporters equally, yet being unequivocal in its disgust and condemnation of a remorseless sexual predator.