He learned by studying greatness

Gotham Chopra
Gotham Chopra is a film documentarian whose six-part series “The Religion of Sports” recently aired on the Audience Network.
(Todd MacMillan)

The gig: Gotham Chopra, 41, is a journalist turned documentarian whose six-part series, “The Religion of Sports,” recently began airing on the Audience Network. Chopra previously directed the 2015 Showtime documentary “Muse,” about future Hall of Fame basketball player Kobe Bryant. Another of Chopra’s efforts involved Indian cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar and his team’s successful 2011 quest for his nation’s first world championship. Chopra’s current work involves projects with basketball star Lebron James and recently retired baseball star David Ortiz.

Decoding Dad: Chopra’s last name is familiar because he is the son of Deepak Chopra, the onetime "pretty miserable” chain-smoking workaholic doctor who became a spiritualist and proponent of alternative medicine and the New Age movement. The younger Chopra did a 2012 documentary about his father called “Decoding Deepak.”

“I became fascinated with the fact that the world saw him a certain way,” Chopra said, “but I think of him very differently. So I just picked up a camera and started following him as he was doing his thing.”

Spiritual nexus: “My father would ask why I was so interested in sports,” Chopra said. “‘Why are athletes paid so much to hit a ball?’ I told him, ‘Your world and mine have a meeting point. There is a nexus between the two’” — and that’s the ability of certain people to inspire others.


Indian legend: An example is Tendulkar, one of the few icons who could unite a nation with 23 languages, eight religions and vast disparities in wealth. In the twilight of his long career, his teammates decided that they had to win for Tendulkar, leading to headlines like “The World At Our Feet” in newspapers such as the Times of India. “He was a sports superstar, but he was also more than that,” Chopra said. “He also represented India in a way that was so dignified at a time of tremendous growth and transition.”

Unplanned prep: Chopra grew up in Boston and attended Columbia University. “I was definitely one of those people who never really knew what I wanted to do,” Chopra said. He chose subjects that interested him — English, religion, and film. “Now it just looks like there was some great design” in what he chose to study, Chopra quipped. “I knew I loved great storytelling,” he said. “There are great characters and stories in sports.” 

His way: Chopra’s first big job came in 1999 with Channel One News, where he suspected his bosses wanted him to write about spirituality. He balked, wanting to do the same hard news that Anderson Cooper and Lisa Ling had done for Channel One. “To some extent, I think, I got hired because people thought ‘son of Deepak Chopra,’” he said. “I said no. I want to go to the least spiritual places in the world. I want to be in Afghanistan and Colombia with narco-traffickers.”

Superheroes: After Channel One, which he left in 2005, and a brief stint with Al Gore’s short-lived Current TV news channel, Chopra helped develop Indian comic superheroes for Virgin Comics, now known as Liquid Comics, in a venture involving Richard Branson, his father Deepak and others. “It’s one thing bringing Batman, Superman and Spiderman to India,” Chopra said. “It’s another thing to build the Spiderman of India, the Batman of India. I thought it was a really cool idea.”


Sports redux: After getting his feet wet with the documentary about his father, Chopra focused on projects that tried to explain the power of sports to those who don’t follow sports. The Kobe Bryant film “for me, was like a real coming-out party, professionally,” he said. Chopra had met the Lakers star through a mutual friend. Bryant had suffered a potential career-ending Achilles’ tendon tear and had said that he would fight to resume his career. Chopra’ recalled that his father had told him “study the greatness in the greatest.”

“I texted him and said, ‘Kobe. This is your documentary. Now we have a story,’” Chopra said. 

Advice: “Follow what you love,” Chopra said. “That was something I observed in my dad as he changed his own life. You will always have people who are critical of you, disparaging. Don’t listen. Just do what really motivates you.”

More advice: “Work hard. No one worked harder than my dad,” Chopra said. “Kobe Bryant and the other athletes I worked with felt that no one was ever going to outwork them in preparing for a practice, game, a championship. That is something I try to emulate.”

Work style: “When we’re on the ground, when we’re filming, I try to keep it as small as possible because obviously you want to keep it intimate,” Chopra said. “With people like Kobe Bryant, who seldom really let the media in, you have to keep it tight. So it’s as small as four people, five people.”

Personal: Chopra has been married to Candice Chen, a doctor, for 23 years. They have a 9-year-old son named Krishan, who is becoming a sports fan. “It’s fun having a 9-year-old because now he’s like my little buddy,” Chopra said. “We’re still huge Boston fans so we try to go to as many games as we can. When the Patriots were at the 49ers in San Francisco last weekend, we went to that game. I do love sports.”

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