Written by Ram Venkat Srikar
When a news anchor displays disbelief in his claims of sleeping less than 30 hours a month, Bikram Choudhury replies, “I’m the weirdest man you’ll ever come across”. This plausibly is the only accurate statement about Bikram’s persona out of the myriad self-appreciating comments he makes over the 90-minute runtime of the film and most likely, his entire life.
Eva Orner’s documentary, Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator follows the standard investigative exemplar as it explores the highly public life of the bad boy of yoga, Bikram, the founder of ‘Bikram Yoga’, well, at least that’s what he claims to. A significant lump of the material manifested in the film is already accessible on the internet, there isn’t anything that the film gives in excess, but what the film adroitly does is- give this compilation of news articles, a voice and focus on it from varying viewpoints. Bikram Yoga was a cultural phenomenon back in the ’70s. And the man behind it, Bikram, is an Indian who moved to America in ’72 and built an empire, which is no easy task, but what is this empire built on? Lies, hatred, and exploitative vulnerabilities. Bikram’s actions would today be associated with the #MeToo movement. What’s sad and shocking are the parallels that can be drawn to the man’s home country, India, and it’s utterly failed #MeToo movement, where sexual predators like the subject of the film, waled away unharmed, leaving permanent scars in the lives of the victims.
Bikram is not a man. He could very well be a symbol. A symbol of everything that is wrong with the world and gender powers, in 2019. And the film addresses this fact in a not very subtle manner. But the man doesn’t have a pinch of subtlety and humility. He is a braggart, an annoying one, that too.
- “I’m the smartest man you’ll ever meet in your life.”
- “You are not old, educated, smart, intelligent, wise, experienced enough to understand who I am.”
- “If I want to have sex with a woman, I don’t have to attack or rape them; there will be a line of millions of women in the world.”
These are some of his quotes in the public domain, just to give you a taste of his level of bragging!
With quite repetitive yet efficient use of the pictures and stock footage, it takes a while to build the structure and flow of the film. But once the conflict arises, it turns into an in-depth and profound study of human nature. The heart of the film lies in zooming on the wounds of the victims which the man has permanently left in their lives, while he relishes his. The resources employed to tell the tale, though, are simple and minimalistic.
The film also raises several questions without actually putting the question mark, but just by presenting it as a thesis of observation. For example, Bikram is still a free man and keeps conducting these programs; it is not a spoiler. But how can a man so narcissistic and proven-guilty roam freely around the world, while still being devoted by people, despite all the proven sexual allegations against him? Is the world soo ignorant and self-obsessed? The answers to these questions are how Bikram is representative of everything that’s wrong with society. That’s how I perceived him. It may differ for each and every person, and that’s the answer.
Another aspect of the film I personally found interesting is its usage of Hindi film scenes from the ’80s, a decade infamous for its portrayal of sexuality, to set up disturbing discussions of sexual assault. As Chandrima Pal, a journalist whose account is featured in the film says, she grew up with characters like Bikram, known for their lack of understanding of reality and those who consider themselves above everyone else, trust me, I’ve come across quite a lot Bikrams in my life. Although they are not as dangerous and vicious as him, they are equally annoying.
To close it- is this a story that needed to be told through Cinema? Not necessarily. A well written and neatly curated piece would have exposed the reader to the happenings equally. But would it have given the same emotional impact? Absolutely no. Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator is a simplistic and measured tale of an insane person and his ripples in this world.