Eva Orner: Hope film will make hot yoga guru Bikram Choudhary's life smaller

Updated: Nov 26, 2019, 08:31 IST | Letty Mariam Abraham | Mumbai

Oscar-winning director Eva Orner discusses bringing hot yoga guru Bikram Choudhary's dark side to the world with a documentary.

A still from the documentary
A still from the documentary

A crusader for justice, Eva Orner is not afraid to pose difficult questions or bring forth uncomfortable truths with her documentaries. The documentarian's latest work, Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator, attempts to unravel the pioneer of hot yoga, Bikram Choudhary, who was accused of sexual abuse by multiple women. At a time when #MeToo has taken the world by storm, Orner hopes her Netflix offering is a small step towards justice.

Edited excerpts from the interview.

After making films on war and refugee treatment, what prompted you to take up Bikram Choudhary as your next subject?
The idea was brought to me by a development executive at a UK-based production company, who had seen my previous film at a festival. On doing some initial research, I felt the story had never been told in its entirety. What made it interesting was that Bikram has got away with [the alleged sexual abuse]. I felt the film was worth making, and during production, the #MeToo movement broke out, which made it all the more relevant.

Director Eva Orner. Pics/Getty Images, Instagram
Director Eva Orner. Pics/Getty Images, Instagram

While the incidents of his sexual abuse are deeply disturbing, which aspect shocked you the most?
That Bikram has not been charged criminally in the US after so many women have made allegations of sexual abuse and rape. He should face a criminal trial. I am also disturbed when I see footage of him ridiculing people and being [verbally] abusive.

The film required survivors to reopen old wounds.
I created a safe environment with the abuse survivors who shared their stories with me. Throughout the making and the film's release, I remained in contact with them as it is traumatic to relive such events, especially on a large scale. I am always in awe of whistleblowers who risk everything to tell the truth.

What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
Gaining people's trust was a challenge. This story was explosive and had divided a community; so many people I approached were suspicious of my motives. I was not from Bikram's world, and it took some convincing for them to speak with me and eventually trust me.

Considering Choudhary is roaming scot-free, what do you hope to achieve with the documentary?
The problem is Bikram's gone now [to India] and it's hard to extradite someone. They have to go through a criminal trial to be considered for extradition. I don't know if he will ever face justice. But I hope that this film will make his life smaller, which he will hate. More people will know his story. I hope people will stop attending his teacher trainings, stop going to Bikram yoga studios and instead, go to generically named hot yoga studios. The man is a fugitive, an alleged sexual predator and a rapist. He is also aggressive, racist and generally offensive.

Do you think the #MeToo movement has brought about a much-needed change?
It encouraged women to support one another, to speak out when they witness or are victims of harassment. I hope it has encouraged men to speak out when they witness sexual harassment and abuse too. It has definitely stopped numerous high-profile, dangerous predatorial men and scared others into submission. An enormous amount has been achieved in a short time, and we will keep moving forward, not backwards.

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