Unlike Wild Wild Country, which showcased events which took before the advent of social media, Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator deals with a relatively new scandal which hasn’t been quite erased from our collective memories.
Based on the real life story of Indian American yoga guru Bikram Chowdhury, the 85-minute long documentary delves into the sexual harassment cases that surrounded the once popular yoga guru of the West. It starts off with Bikram’s entry to the Western shores, snippets of his interviews on US morning chat shows in the 80s and 90s, and vignettes of live yoga sessions.
Bikram had allegedly treated US President Nixon, George Harrison of the Beatles and many other Hollywood celebrities, and swears by the efficacy of his self-established yoga postures and techniques. He is also shown to run a teaching programme where students across the world learn his trademark ‘hot yoga’ for $10,000 and then open licensed studios with the Bikram brand name.
What follows is montages of Americans lining up at the Bikram Yoga Studio in California, ex-students, teachers and employees praising Bikram’s methods and style of teaching, and how it has transformed their lives. The documentary then cuts to the present with victims of sexual harrasment detailing accounts of molestation and violation on screen.
Evocative details are shared where one cannot help but feel disgust at Bikram’s method of conning and taking advantage of young woman who participated in the workshops. These women surrendered themselves to their teacher to learn “the ancient art form” in hopes of bettering their career.
With the world reeling from stories of #MeToo, no detail seems far-fetched as the victims describe how Bikram cornered some of these woman. He went on to rape one of these students in his own house while his wife and children slept upstairs. Despite the allegations and the unforgivable crimes, Bikram managed to escape and has not been convicted. The damages he was asked to pay to his victims remain uncollected till date. But these are details that are fresh in public memory.
While the accounts of victims are provoking, the documentary fails to bring forward any new aspects about Bikram. A large part of his life from 80s to the present remains relatively unseen. His megalomania, his childhood, his family upbringing in India are other missing aspects that could have established his predatory nature. Research beyond the surfacial level, non-linear story-telling and some more personal stories could have perhaps elevated the documentary and made it more engaging.