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This Chopra Meditates on Storytelling

Metropolis / Chat Room

September 15, 2002|JANET KINOSIAN

Don't expect Gotham Chopra to rest on the laurels of his New Age guru father, Deepak. As a three-year correspondent for the youth-oriented news program Channel One, Chopra, 27, has traversed time and combat zones few care to dare. In his recently published "Familiar Strangers: Uncommon Wisdom in Unlikely Places" (Doubleday), Chopra spins true tales of rebels in Chechnya; Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka; drug warlords in Bogota. On the lighter side, Chopra story-edited "Bulletproof Monk," a Flypaper Press and Image Comics miniseries re-released last month and set for the big screen early next year as a John Woo and Terence Chang-produced MGM feature starring Chow Yun Fat.

Do you fear for your safety in the war zones you've reported on?

The world has changed. Before, I felt like Indiana Jones and it was great. But now there's a palpable sense of being in danger every time you step into the world as an American. The Daniel Pearl sensibility is real.

Does the Chopra name help or hinder?

At first I think there was an expectation that I'd bring a sensitivity to more emotive, softer stories. But for me, it was, ''I want to go to war, to the trenches, to the front lines.'' I can explore it in my own sensitive, thoughtful way, but that's the setting I want to be in.

What do you believe links all these conflict areas together?

Greed and religious fanaticism, I think. It's a potent combo. I consider religion the greatest plague that has ever descended upon humankind. More people have died in the name of God than for any other reason in the history of civilization. Spirituality is great, but religion is not. Greed speaks for itself.

Did your dad really raise you in keeping with the precepts outlined in his books?

Very much. But it wasn't like he wrote these "7 Spiritual Laws" in our house and posted them on the refrigerator. I've always been close to both my parents, and there's never really been anything that I was hesitant to discuss with them. Because of my dad, I get questions on parenting all the time and I'm not even a parent. I don't have any pearls of wisdom on these things yet.

It seems a long way from Pakistan to "Bulletproof Monk." How did comic books get you?

I was hired on as a writer/creator/editor. It's a great story. It's based on the historical fact that a team of scientists [was] dispatched in 1941 by Adolf Hitler in search of the origins of the Aryan gene. They traced it to the Indo-Tibetan region, where [in the comic book] some Tibetan monks are having tests performed on them by Nazi scientists. The "Bulletproof Monk" saves the group and disappears. Fifty years later he surfaces and is charged with finding his successor. It's pretty cool.

Does India draw you on any level?

I'm spending a lot more time there with my grandmother since my [paternal] grandfather died about a year and a half ago. She began telling me these stories about my grandfather and how they met and how my parents met, and all the family scandals. I'd come home and tell my dad and he'd add more of his own. [Traditionally,] the oldest son is supposed to carry his father's ashes within 36 hours up to the Ganges and spread them. At this spot, there's an old monastery with a long lineage of monks to whom you tell your seminal life stories and they'll record them. When my dad went for the first time, he learned that my grandfather had been there three times; my great-grandfather had been there; it went back six generations. That's the mystical part of India that enchants me.

Tell us about your wedding this past May.

My wife [Dr. Candice Chen, 27, a medical intern in Los Angeles] is Chinese and we had a traditional Chinese banquet. The wedding ceremony was Sikh [Chopra's mother, Rita Chopra, is Sikh]. I wore a traditional white turban and so did my dad, who was totally into it. We held a big party at an old Gothic cathedral in Manhattan that was completely redesigned. It was certainly not a cookie-cutter experience.

How important is success to you?

Of course you want your book to be on the bestseller list, you want your movie to make millions of dollars, you want everything. But at some level you just do it because you love to do it. It goes where it should go.

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