His dad, Deepak Chopra, may be a world-renowned mind-body healing expert who’s enlightened and befriended everyone from Oprah to Madonna to the Dalai Lama — but Gotham Chopra, 39, is building some pretty good street cred of his own. So far he’s produced nine films, including the (decidedly unspiritual) Bulletproof Monk, and taken on a slew of other projects, including directing an ESPN documentary on the curious nature of Indian cricket, The Little Master.
Chopra the younger is also a diehard Boston-bred Celtics fan; so his next project, Kobe Bryant’s Muse — a Showtime documentary on the aging Lakers superstar—particularly piqued our interest. We caught up with the filmmaker and found out how much fun it is to trash talk with Kobe — and how his famous father just kinda doesn’t get it.
What so interested you about Kobe that you wanted to make a film about him?
Well, I’ve always been a fan of basketball in general — I grew up in Boston, and to this day I’m still a huge Celtics fan. So, ironically, for 99% of my life I hated Kobe. I hated everything he represented, and rooted very actively against him. But even when I was a diehard Laker-hater, I also respected that he’s indisputably one of the greatest at his craft. Be it in basketball or business or art, I’m always fascinated to learn how that works: How do you get to be that great at something?
Did your Boston fandom ever come up?
Oh man, it came up every single day! And while we were making the film, the Red Sox won the World Series, and the Bruins went pretty far. It was just a constant source of trash-talking between us.
It was fun, and I think it’s sort of ironic that he let somebody in who grew up behind enemy lines.
How did you manage to narrow down his story to find a focus for the film?
The story starts about a year ago, when Kobe was recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon, so it’s almost like a yearlong comeback story.
But the larger theme is Kobe’s pursuit of greatness. All through his career, he’s wanted to be the very best.
We also get into what life after basketball will be like, which is very much on his mind, and something he talks pretty openly about.
What impressed you most about him?
He’s gifted and talented, but nobody outworks Kobe Bryant — I mean, nobody. I’ve been fortunate enough to get to know him, to watch him come back to full strength, and he works his ass off.
But he’s also humble. He doesn’t take anything for granted. As a fan — as somebody from the outside — you know this guy really is a Black Mamba, like his nickname. He’s this killer, and he’ll run over his grandmother to win the game.
But there’s also a certain humility to him about shit he doesn’t know about, and he’s constantly asking questions. He’s curious. He wants to talk to people, he’s reading websites and sending me articles and asking questions about things like Pinterest, and asking, “How did this company get to be where it is?”
Did any of his zeal in the gym rub off on you?
I certainly don’t want to compare myself in any way to Kobe, but I’ve always been active — seven days a week I’m doing something. I ride bikes, swim, run, and play basketball once a week. Every day I’m doing something, usually for up to an hour and a half.
And my wife tries to get me to go to yoga — which, interestingly, everyone assumes I do lots of — but I’m lucky if I get there once a month, just to indulge her.
Your father is a bona fide spiritual icon — how did you manage to get so deep into sports?
I like to say that everything “spiritual” that my dad’s talked about for years actually exists in sports. When I watch Kobe doing his workouts in the morning, where it’s just him and a ball boy, it’s like watching somebody do yoga, or martial arts.
But I also have to say that, while my dad maybe a spiritual icon, he’s also perhaps the least sports-savvy person ever. When I told him about this project, and working with Kobe, he was like, “Wait, the Lakers — didn’t they win the Super Bowl a few years ago?”