November 2, 2010

Gotham Chopra On the Super Bowl, Yoga Classes, Foreign Wars & Comic Books.

Gotham Chopra recently graced Elephant with  The Spirituality of Dogs, a candid behind-the-scenes look at his bestselling new book, Walking Wisdom.  Later I had the opportunity to ask Gotham about things other than Deepak, dogs, and Michael Jackson:

Bob:  Gotham, I’d like to start with the question I usually end my interviews with:  What is the question you’d most like to be asked, but no one ever does?

Gotham:  “Who do you think is going to win the Super Bowl this year?”

I am not sure why most people assume that if you’re into wellness, try to live a healthy life-style, care about the environment, social justice, and tend to be a little bit liberal leaning on everything – or go by the name Chopra, in general – that you’re not really into the NFL.

I think that’s what we tend to do, form fairly rigid perceptions of people that conform to what we expect of them and then act surprised or disappointed when those expectations aren’t met. This has largely been the story of my life. I’m not complaining, just commenting. I can tell you that it ain’t easy for Gotham Chopra to attend a yoga class. Every time I go and make the mistake of signing in with my real name, the instructor will stare at me with wide eyes as if I should perhaps be teaching the class. The look of wonder soon crumbles when they see me take that first pose. And it’s not just because of multiple knee surgeries, chronic shoulder dislocation, and generally bad joints – it so happens that I plain suck at yoga.

This is something I probably resisted a lot when I was younger. Alternatively I tried to conform and fit in to those perceptions of others or rebelled against them. Part of the reason I spent 5 years of my life as a foreign war correspondent was because in my mind there was nothing I could do that was (in my mind) more contrary than my family’s spiritual identity than gallivant across the world hanging with narco-traffickers, Jihadists, gangsters, and smugglers. Of course, the more I did that, the more I realized that that was probably the most spiritual time in my life – you have to go to the other side of here to realize what here and now is all about.  [See Familiar Strangers, Gotham’s book about this period in his life.]

I think we are all transformational Beings when at peace with ourselves. We change and mature and evolve, and also go backwards from time to time. Getting comfortable with that uncertainly in ourselves and others can be challenging, but also liberating when accomplished.

I’m a Boston fan, even though I have not lived there since I left high school. There’s something very tribal about it. I can tell you going to school in Yankee Country and now living in Laker Land has provided some real insights into exploring my shadow self, but that’s another question. I think the Patriots are going to win the Super Bowl, because I always think (hope) the Patriots are going to win the Super Bowl. Many people think that forming an attachment to a team or a group of people over whom you have no control is entirely unspiritual. I actually find it totally liberating. Now about Tom Brady’s hair….

Bob:  Tell me more about why you say that your five years as a foreign war correspondent were the most spiritual of you life.

Gotham:  It’s pretty easy to fall into the clichéd trappings of us vs. them, our righteous ways vs. their terrorist ones – that is, until you meet them and their families and discover that “they” largely have many of the same concerns that you do. They want to raise their children in safety, have them succeed more than they were able to, pursue their faith free of persecution, and other fairly simple relatable pursuits. Much of that gets lost in the jingoism and Jihadism or our media inflamed world.

We pretend to be rational beings, but for the most part our decisions in life are motivated by our emotions and fears. Sometimes only when you place yourself in the context of others are you able to fully understand and appreciate the world from their perspective. I’ve always understood spirituality as state of awareness, and to have had the ability to travel around the world and experience the world even for a brief moment from the perspective of our so-called enemies gave me a sense of that state of awareness. I think in viewing the world through that looking glass, one starts to see reflections of parts of yourself – especially those elements and qualities like extreme patriotism, tribalism, and rage that we most resist and try to deny. The realization that only in reconciling those parts of ourselves might we be able to reconcile with others is a pretty startling spiritual awakening. At least for me!

Bob:  Another thing I’ve been anxious to talk to you about is your passion for comic books.  It’s listed in all your bios, and I did track down a couple of articles about your involvement in the Indian comic book industry.  Is this a current interest, or a past one?  Either way, could you tell me more about it and what it means to you?

Gotham:  If you think about it, comics are amongst the first forms of creative expression amongst humans. Cave paintings with hieroglyphics narrating great stories about our existence, epic stories of good vs. evil, the divine vs. the diabolical, odes to nature’s prolific power and more. Growing up in America, I was raised on not only the modern mythologies of superheroes like Batman and Wolverine, but my father also used to expose us to Indian comic books that chronicled the stories of the great Gods and Goddesses, conquerors and prophets of the Indian pantheon. It’s how I gained familiarity with the epic stories of Krishna and Shiva, Parvati and Durga, the Mughal Emperors and Rajput Warriors.

Several years ago, I launched a comic book company based out of India who’s mission was in part to bridge that divide, and enable great Indian artists and storytellers to bring their rich mythology and artistry to the west the same way Japanese and Korean creators have done so with manga and mawa respectively. Sir Richard Branson was an early supporter of our vision and we initially launched and grew the company as Virgin Comics. Two years ago, we actually bought out the company from the Virgin group and rebranded it as Liquid Comics, with the intention of really bringing our content into the digital domain. So it remains a very big part of my professional and creative life, and now we also get to play in the new arena of technology and innovation while our mission of nurturing a new generation of creators remains very much intact. One of our upcoming books is entitled 18 DAYS which we collaborated on with comic icon Grant Morrison and (in my mind) one of the most talented Indian artists named Mukesh Singh. It’s a futuristic SciFi retelling of one of india’s most culturally iconic stories The Mahabharata and I think the comic – print and digital – is just the start of a really transformative project.

Bob:  Now you’re talking!  You know, from the first time I heard about you I said to myself, why does everyone keep asking him about Deepak?  I want to hear about this comic book thing.  In our next talk I’d like to hear about where is the comic industry going, both here and in India.  I’m particularly interested the idea of bringing ancient Indian mythology to life through the action hero medium!

Gotham Chopra

Gotham is the co-founder of Liquid Comics (formerly Virgin Comics and Virgin Animation), a premiere entertainment company based in Los Angeles and Bangalore India. As part of the company, Gotham works with creators to develop graphic novels and is also responsible for packaging and producing the books as they evolve into games, films, and more.

Gotham is the author of four books, including the graphic novels “Bulletproof Monk” for which he also served along with John Woo as Executive Producer on the feature film produced by MGM Studios (2003) and “The Sadhu” which he is also currently adapting as a feature film with the director Tarsem Singh and producer Gianni Nunnari.

Formerly an award winning journalist and documentary film-maker, Gotham reported from countless warzones and has interviewed a wide range of Global leaders – from President Bush to the Dalai Lama. He also served as researcher and lyrical advisor to Michael Jackson on the multi-platinum albums “Dangerous” and “HIStory.”

More recently Gotham was integrally involved in the formation of Current TV, co-founded by former Vice-President Al Gore which launched in in August of 2005. Gotham remains a contributor and key advisor to the network as it continues to re-define and democratize the “television experience.” At present, he is directing a feature documentary entitled “Soul’d Out” which is scheduled to premiere in fall of 2010.

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