Last week, someone approached my dad at one of his speaking events and said to him, “I heard your son made a movie about you.”
He told me he smiled back at the person and replied: “Actually, he made a movie about himself.”
As much as I hate to admit it, he may be onto something.
It was about a year and half ago that I set out to Bangkok with a my dad, a creative partner named Mark Rinehart that I’d only met about 10 days earlier, some cameras and tape, and the vague notion of making a movie about my father that would reconcile the strange pop cultural icon he’s become to the world vs. the real man I thought I knew. A few days later, while spending the days interviewing my dad in quiet gardens at the 5-star Peninsula Hotel and then the nights with Mark rolling film on the neon blitzed sex market of central Bangkok, I realized I was trying to reconcile something much bigger.
As is the habit the has made my dad a bestselling author, he could wrap lyrical poetry around the frames of the film we’d started shooting, and yet the substance of those frames was often all too visceral — teenagers selling themselves in dank alleyways, Japanese tourists chasing young boys deep into maze of Bangkok’s endless underground. As has often been the case in my life, I struggled to balance the deep philosophical insight of my father with all too often horrible realities of real life on planet earth. Maybe that’s what the film really need to be about.
That’s the thing about documentaries: You start with one thesis and quickly find yourself tracking something entirely different. Don’t get me wrong — my film ‘Decoding Deepak’ is very much a journey into the identify of my father Deepak Chopra, the guy my sister and I have called ‘papa’ all of our life, even while people like Lady Gaga and Kim Kardashian started to call him their guru in the last few years.
After those triply days in Thailand, I tracked my dad around the world several times over. Thailand, Japan, India, not to mention places like NYC, Sedona, San Diego, Los Angeles and elsewhere. But even as the scenery continued to change from city to city, country to country, I saw that my dad hadn’t. Wherever we went, he kept on talking about whatever it is he talks about: consciousness, quantum entanglement, plank scale geometry. In and of itself it was sort of interesting, the inside of a rabbit always is, right? And yet the same nagging doubt crept into me — that my movie had to be about something more than the existential Truman Show I’ve always suspected I’ve lived in. This movie couldn’t just be about my dad, it had to be about my finding him… which, indeed, really would make it about me.
There’s precedent for this, a history of Indian gurus popularized in the west — Ramana Maharishi, Swami Vivekananda, and more recently Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Osho, and these days a guy who goes by the name Sri Sri. By and large they’ve’ll have the same look – the saffron robes, long hair, and cheery smiles. It’s probably why I could never really think of my dad as one of them. That and… I mean, he’s my dad.
But traveling the world with him the last year, I started to realize that maybe my dad was indeed one of them, maybe he was some Indian Guru as strange as that may be. He just didn’t have the robe and long hair. He has sparkly glasses, red sneakers, and a crew cut. Be not alarmed, I’m not trying to tell you that I’m now a follower of my father or convinced he’s some prophet. Far from it. But you’ll have to watch the movie to glean my final verdict on that front.
But in looking more closely at my father, I was reminded of something Osho once said. Like my father and many of his Indian spiritual predecessors, Osho had his detractors, people who called him a “snake oil salesmen,” “fraud,” and “prophet for profit.” Osho shrugged it off. He claimed to think of those that loved and hated him with the same relative detachment. “They see in me,” he said, “what they want to see. They see in me that which they either love or hate in themselves.”
Indeed, that right there is very much he story of the spiritual guru. I think (hope) it’s the story of my father and my movie too. In my search for him, I did in fact start to search for myself. I stopped looking to him for answers about the atrocities of Bangkok and looked deeper into myself for them. I stopped wondering about what Lady Gaga saw in him, and started to find what I did.
And now I’ve realized something else about my movie. When it’s all said in done, when the final credits roll on the film, I hope I’ll actually prove my dad wrong. Because I don’t want this movie to be about him. Or me. I want it to be about you. See in it what you want to see in it, what you want see in yourself.