Stars: (3 / 5) Watch it on Netflix
Bikram Choudhury is a man of hyperbole. Famous for being the founder of Bikram Yoga, one of the most popular exercise practices in the world, he makes fantastical claims about his origins, yoga techniques, and even his passage to the United States from India, involving none other than President Nixon.
Choudhury tells his stories with deep conviction. But a new Netflix documentary says, not so fast.
Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator asserts that Choudhury is a fraud, a teller of tall tales and a serial rapist.
It’s a devastating look at a man whose colorful character, intense charm, and powerful motivational skills mask a penchant for sexual abuse and control, even as thousands of people credit him for changing their lives for the better.
Choudhury emigrated to the US from India in the 70s. Described as “a cross between Mother Teresa and Howard Stern”, his style is to preside over yoga sessions held in sweltering indoor conditions, offering followers praise if they excel and invective if they don’t.
He chides, he sings, he bends people to his will, both physically and emotionally. And everybody loves him.
His hardcore brand of yoga has brought him incredible fame, fortune, and celebrity.
His techniques have been so effective, his charms so unique, that followers refer to him in uber-grateful, reverent tones. In fact, it’s this almost god-like status that seems to have shielded him from scrutiny for so long.
The dark side of Choudhury found peak expression in the 90s. The guru devised a teaching system that pulled in a large amount of beautiful, ambitious, and impressionable young men and women with the promise of being able to go forth and spread his brand of hot yoga around the world.
By housing attendees exclusively in a hotel (where Choudhury would also stay despite having a house he could go home to), he had unfettered access to women enamored with his powerful persona.
Former Bikram students tell how the yogi would invite them to his room and proceed to sexually abuse them.
One victim claims that Bikram raped her in his home while his wife and child were sleeping. She remembers kissing him on the forehead after the assault on her way out, such was his Jim Jones sway over her.
By the time these former faithful recount their cases of assault and rape, you already have a keen sense of Bikram’s mania. Director Eva Orner accomplishes this by piecing together archival footage, TV reports, videos from Choudhury’s civil court cases, and interviews of his victims, into an increasingly bizarre and sinister mosaic portrait.
Orner invites you to look clearly, past the hype and mythology, and see the dark cracks in Choudhury’s personality and past.
It’s a shocking look at hero worship and the dangers of cultic control.