The latest one-off Netflix documentary Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator uncovers the darkness behind Bikram Choudhury and his hot yoga empire. This insightful outing from filmmaker Eva Orner (Chasing Asylum) lifts the lid on a harrowing tale of immoral activities in the guise of spiritual guidance.
The doc charts the rise of Choudhury as he gained rock star status in the US. Arriving in America in 1971, he soon attracted high profile clients such as Shirley MacLaine, Quincy Jones and Raquel Welch. Through these stars he managed to inject himself into the heart of Beverly Hills royalty. The self-proclaimed Guru put together a 26 posture manual along with two breathing exercises, all performed within the conditions of a steam room – also known as hot yoga. The images of Choudhury parading and barking orders dressed in nothing but a pair of black Speedos is in itself hilarious and hard to take seriously, as is the idea that people bought into his 40° ideologies.
If Choudhury does have one obvious talent, it is his voice. He has a hypnotic tone from which he fires instructions, making his students become hooked to his every syllable. Within the stifling heat, his students and clients are drenched in sweat while he bombards them with abuse about their weight and other views about their imperfections. At the same time he sits on his throne-like platform above his class with a personal air conditioner blowing on his head. The contradiction sums up the man perfectly.
Even more disturbing within Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator is the control we see Choudhury have over students, trying to transcend being a simple yoga instructor into that of a messiah figure. Former student Jakob Schanzer appears in the documentary detailing how he was captivated by the guru and targeted: “I needed something in my life, I needed guidance that I didn’t have.”
One of the women who came forward with allegations against Choudhury, Sarah Baughn, details how he invaded students’ lives, giving them a habitual reliance on him. According to the talking head, Choudhury held private sessions in his room where he would make advances towards his female students. Baughn recounts how his teachings became a grooming exercise, one executed behind the veil of yoga.
Choudhury in Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator comes across as so out of touch with reality it becomes a farce. What is not a farce though is the six rape and assault cases which were filed against him over the past decade, four of which were settled outside of court. Again, parallels to Harvey Weinstein surface in how Choudhury’s victims were kept silent by the threat of damage to their teaching careers should they speak out.
The documentary raises many obvious questions. With all his fame and notoriety, nobody seemed to have checked out Choudhury’s background until after allegations were brought upon him. Lies – such as him stating he created the posture routine that made him famous – are unraveled very easily when one former student looked into his past. As such, Orner’s doc is not a ‘whodunit’ in the style of Making a Murderer. Instead, it’s more about why is he still getting away with it? A startling revelation towards the end of the documentary reveals now he is practicing outside of the States. Another question raised in the film but left to our own interpretation is: Has Choudhury always been this way? Or is he an opportunist who became deranged with power and believed the lie of his own importance?
Either way, the information is out there now through this documentary, stripping the layers from Choudhury. Indeed the subject of the film recently sent a letter to Netflix CEO Reed Hastings reading: “I strongly urge you to consider immediately withdrawing the Netflix smear documentary.” Orner has certainly rattled the cage of the Yogi Guru.