In her prolific career as a producer and director of journalistic documentaries, Australian filmmaker Eva Orner has tackled such subjects as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, asylum seekers in Australia, and Cuba’s most vulnerable people. Her fourth feature film, about disgraced hot yoga architect Bikram Choudhury, presented a new challenge: How to humanize an alleged rapist.
The searing and timely documentary, “Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator,” debuted on Netflix on Wednesday, and is certain to provoke renewed waves of shock and anger at how Choudhury has eluded justice for his many alleged crimes. But there’s one person Orner hopes is paying extra close attention: California Governor Gavin Newsom.
“I’m saying to Gavin Newsom, you know, I’m sure he watches Netflix a lot. Watch the film, call [L.A. District Attorney] Jackie Lacey and tell her to step it up and do something,” Orner told IndieWire during a recent phone interview. “Jackie Lacey needs to explain her actions. And we contacted her office and her spokesperson repeatedly and they declined the interview for filming. She’s never spoken out about it. That implies guilt to me.”
The L.A. County District Attorney’s Office replied with this statement:
“In 2013, a case was submitted to the District Attorney’s Office for filing consideration. At that time it was determined that there was insufficient evidence to file criminal charges.
Successful prosecutions typically involve a combination of factors, such as the victim reporting the crime quickly to authorities, cooperative witnesses, and the presence of physical evidence and DNA evidence.
Like all criminal cases, to file charges prosecutors must have sufficient credible evidence to prove the defendant is guilty of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.
The District Attorney’s Office is unaware of any ongoing investigation involving Bikram Choudhury, however, if law enforcement presents anything to our office, a complete and thorough review will be conducted.
If it is determined that there is sufficient evidence to file charges and prove those charges beyond a reasonable doubt, the District Attorney’s Office will take the appropriate steps to bring Mr. Choudhury to justice.”
As explained in the film, Choudhury has been living in India since 2017, where he fled in order to avoid paying a $7 million dollar settlement to his former lawyer. He has never faced criminal charges for any of the crimes of which he’s been accused, and he has mostly avoided any significant payments from the civil court cases that have been brought by his victims.
“The problem is Bikram’s gone now and it’s very, very hard to extradite someone and to get them back to a country, they actually have to go through a criminal trial to be even considered for extradition,” said Orner. “It’s a very, very difficult process. So I don’t know that he will ever be brought back and faced justice.”
Though he’s been kicked out of his beloved Beverly Hills home for good, Choudhury still enjoys the lavish lifestyle his yoga empire brought him. He still travels the world conducting teacher trainings, which in the past not only provided him a robust income but served as grounds to groom his victims. Though his reputation is diminished in the yoga world, Orner is hoping that the power of Netflix’s global reach will have a more tangible impact.
“I think what this film will do is make his life smaller and he will hate that,” she said. “More people would recognize him and know his story. A lot of people will see this film, a lot of people will know his story, and he will feel their stares. … I hope that when he’s traveling and when he’s out in the world, people look at him like — ‘I know who you are, I know what you’ve done. You’re a terrible person.'”
With such a long and storied career working in non-fiction film, Orner is under no illusions about the impact any one film can have. She points to “An Inconvenient Truth” and “The Invisible War” as documentaries that had tangible effects on legislation. She calls herself “a realist,” but adds that “you never know.”
“I hope people stop going to his teacher training. I hope people take down their Bikram signs, the names off the remaining Bikram studios … I’m hoping the governor makes Jackie Lacey reopen the case and go after him. But you know, I’ll accept small victories,” she said.