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Now and Then: 'Decoding Deepak,' or What the Bleep Does He Know?

Photo of Matt Brennan By Matt Brennan | Thompson on Hollywood! October 9, 2012 at 4:04PM

Early in "Decoding Deepak," the titular spiritualist and his filmmaker son float languidly over Thailand's Chao Phraya river delta, on their way to the former's ordination as a Buddhist monk. "Don't try to make sense of it, just roll the cameras and try to keep up," the director sighs. Mission accomplished.
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Deepak Chopra and his son, filmmaker Gotham Chopra, in "Decoding Deepak"
Deepak Chopra and his son, filmmaker Gotham Chopra, in "Decoding Deepak"

Early in "Decoding Deepak," the titular spiritualist and his filmmaker son float languidly over Thailand's Chao Phraya river delta, on their way to the former's ordination as a Buddhist monk. "Don't try to make sense of it, just roll the cameras and try to keep up," the director sighs. Mission accomplished.

Gotham Chopra's fitfully engaging new documentary travels between Bangkok, New York, and New Delhi, trying to find the "real" Deepak. Gotham's refreshing skepticism is admirable, especially because it is turned on his own father, and the portrait that emerges is less than flattering. Deepak, we find, is a spiritualist obsessed with the temporal, a prophet of mindfulness whose eyes flicker down to his phone with abandon, a supposedly enlightened figure whose quest for fame and "relevance," as Gotham puts it, remains "insatiable."

As an exposé of sorts, "Decoding Deepak" works, to a point and in spurts. But other than the added twist of the father/son dynamic, it's not audacious to suggest that the elder Chopra's endless mantras, platitudes, and aphorisms conjure an emperor without clothes. Thus it seems self-evident that "creativity — higher guidance — transcendence" is not a design for living but a code for selling books, no more penetrable than a corporate algorithm. Brave though it may be for the filmmaker to question his subject's sincerity, the documentary refuses to push the next logical claim: if one has enough to say on a topic to merit 60 books, perhaps one isn't saying anything at all.

This article is related to: Now and Then, Reviews, DVD and VOD, Genres, Independents, Documentaries


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.