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.