Bikram Yogi, Guru, Predator movie review: Netflix’s spiritual successor to Wild Wild Country is just as wicked
Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator
Director - Eva Orner
At less than an hour-and-a-half long, it’s surprising how much story director Eva Orner packs into her incendiary documentary feature, Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator.
It evolves from being an incisive profile of a flamboyant personality to an investigation into allegations of his misconduct; from a tale of brave rebellion to ultimately, a cathartic expose of a charlatan. The film seamlessly blends archival footage with stirring first person testimony for a complex concoction that is just as timely as it is heartbreaking. And unlike most true-crime movies — although it is rather reductive to describe Bikram as such — it ends conclusively.
Watch the Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator trailer here
Refreshingly, Bikram isn’t the sort of film that allows itself to be swept up in the convoluted contemporary discourse surrounding sexual misconduct, but instead examines the nuanced psychological aftermath of abuse, both mental and physical. It is devastating to watch victims of Bikram Choudhary, founder of Bikram Yoga, admit that despite his reprehensible behaviour towards them, his maverick methods changed their lives. “He had this unique skill,” one person says, “where he could look at your body, and without touching it know how far it can be pushed.”
In one scene towards the end of the film, one man breaks down after he is forced to confront the multiple allegations made against Bikram, a man he thought of as a father. In another scene, a woman recounting a terrifying encounter with him, in which he attempted to assault her in a hotel room, remembers that she wished him ‘goodnight’ before fleeing.
Not only does this re-enforce notions about victimhood — “I’m glad he’s still teaching,” another person says — but also about patterns of abuse. In scouting for his prey, Bikram would employ methods that we know so well by now. He would single out women in large groups, make them feel special, invite them for private meetings, and proceed to convince them that what was happening to them was a privilege. “If I want to have sex with women, I don’t need to rape them or assault them or abuse them,” he says, perhaps as a defence, during a TV interview, “There’ll be a line of millions of women around the world, as volunteers.”
Bikram was, by most accounts, a megalomaniac. He would frequently display despicable behaviour, not only in his private life, but also during his high-profile yoga lessons that have attracted attention from the likes of Robert Downey Jr and George Clooney. In fact, Bikram even claims in the film that he didn’t obtain his US citizenship through the regular routes, but that it was a gift from president Richard Nixon.
Perhaps the film’s title — Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator — is also the most appropriate description of its structure. It is slightly unfortunate, however, that despite being so much more than just a sleazy true-crime doc, Orner cuts the film like one. And this rather ill-advised idea extends even to the film’s marketing; particularly the trailer, which makes use of Bikram’s own singing voice to set a sinister tone.
The film has more in common with HBO’s Leaving Neverland documentary, a similarly sensitive testimonial account of Michael Jackson’s alleged crimes, than Netflix’s own Wild Wild Country, another story about an Indian immigrant who came to America with a knapsack of exotic ideas, and developed a cult-like following.
In a culture that is still hesitant to provide a voice to the oppressed; a culture that sometimes seems to be actively seeking to silence them, this is a film that clears the stage and listens. And as someone whose countryfolk are in the process of slowly rehabilitating men accused of similar crimes, Bikram: Guru, Yogi, Predator comes highly recommended.