TORONTO: Controversial yoga guru Bikram Choudhury, who built an empire of hundreds of studios in North America and elsewhere before he fell from grace, is the subject of a compelling and timely no-holds-barred documentary that had its world premiere at the 44th Toronto International Film Festival.
The film, titled "Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator", has been directed by the Melbourne-born, Los Angeles-based Eva Orner.
It traces the Bikram Yoga story all the way from the man's meteoric rise in the 1970s to his disgrace in recent times owing to accusations of rape and sexual harassment.
The primary purpose of making the film, Orner said after a screening for the press and industry here, is to "tell the story of the women and bring it to the attention of the world. They spoke out in an environment that wasn't supportive."
Several women have levelled charges against Bikram Choudhury. A few of them are in the film speaking candidly about their humiliation at the hands of the man they looked up to. These allegations have been upheld by a court in California, but Choudhury, now a fugitive from the US law, still roams free.
Apart from free-wheeling interviews with many of his acolytes, including his legal adviser-turned-adversary Micki Jafa-Bodden, the film features tapes of his deposition in which he reveals a rather twisted sense of his right and wrong.
The film ends with videos of Choudhury conducting yoga camps in Mexico and Spain, away from the long arms of the law.
The initial portions of the film draw upon on the reminiscences of his followers to throwing light on Choudhury's personality.
He is always seen in a black speedo egging his students to push themselves to their limits of physical endurance.
He teaches a yoga routine that is made up 26 postures and two breathing exercises done in an atmosphere that is described as "dystopian", where participants are deprived of food and sleep and made to go through a nine-week 'hot yoga' session in a torture chamber of sorts.
The film investigates Bikram Choudhury's origins in Kolkata, where he picked up the rudiments from legendary yoga therapist Bishnu Ghosh and took the techniques westwards and earned himself thousands of acolytes and millions of dollars.
Halfway through, "Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator" takes a dark turn as the female yoga enthusiasts who speak on camera describe their harrowing encounters with Bikram.
When the filmmaker was developing the project, the #MeToo campaign broke.
"It made the film more exciting and urgent," said Orner, whose producing credits include the Oscar-winning documentary "Taxi to the Dark Side" (2007).
"While we wait for the Harvey Weinstein trial to begin, it is important to show how easy it is powerful men to get away with serious sexual misdemeanours," Orner said.
The filmmaker is aware that Bikram Choudhury has "absolute supporters" who still do not believe that he could be guilty and that there are others who "simply do not care" about his transgressions.
According to Orner, they love his yoga routine so much that we are willing to overlook everything else.