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Decoding Deepak: SXSW Review

The Bottom Line

Muddled portrait of bestselling guru will frustrate both fans and critics.

Venue

South By Southwest Film Festival (Headliners)

A documentary made by Deepak Chopra's son is a muddled portrait of the bestselling guru.

AUSTIN -- A confused entry into the My Famous Father documentary genre, Gotham Chopra's Decoding Deepak tells us little about the guru we couldn't have guessed and leaves its maker looking petty and overprivileged. Its high-profile subject will demand attention at fests and may earn attention from distributors, but the movie will annoy most of Chopra's followers while leaving more critical viewers without much to go on.

Father and son, evidently, set out together to craft a doc that would expound on Deepak's vaguely metaphysical self-help philosophy and be sold alongside his string of bestsellers; the film would center on his decision to be ordained as a monk in Thailand, entering into a period of silence that would challenge a man who speaks -- on cable news, to dues-paying followers, to anyone -- as much as he breathes.

Along the way, though, the younger Chopra set a private agenda. He would expose Dad's self-centeredness (world-famous guru is self-important -- film at 11!) and try to figure out what others see in him. Crucially, the doc would ask why strangers he meets "don't ask me about Gotham; they ask me about him."

Self-absorption is hereditary, it seems, and while Gotham sets out gathering material, his incessant narration is peppered with irony-free howlers like "I wanted to ... learn to listen, rather than talk all the time." Meanwhile, Deepak is rattling off ideas for scenes in the film, directing the director as if he were a hired gun. He's surprisingly invested in crafting this self-portrait for someone who claims to believe a "personal me" doesn't exist.

Midway through the film, the tone shifts inexplicably. Even as family members appear onscreen, all agreeing that Dad is loved too widely for his own good, Gotham starts stepping away from his initial sarcasm, offering a sketchy history of Deepak's career and legacy without ever quite explaining what he has been selling for the last twenty-odd years. A closing montage shows the guru aging in innumerable TV clips, repeating the same grandiose philosophies and rhetorical questions for a never-ending series of news hosts with airtime to fill.

Venue: South By Southwest Film Festival, Headliners
Production Company: NALA Films
Producers: Gotham Chopra, Scott Carlin, Mark Rinehart, Josh Soskin
Executive producers: Emilio Diez Barroso, Darlene Caamaño Loquet
Director of photography: Mark Rinehart
Music: Huma Huma
Editor: Julian Robinson
Sales: Chopra Media
No rating, 74 minutes