I am excited to tell you about Gotham Chopra’s new project Help Desk, airing
TODAY, Sunday, September 22, at noon on OWN.
In these two thirty-minute episodes, Gotham sets up a Help Desk in the middle of New York City with his father Deepak and in Los Angeles with Reverend Ed Bacon.
Catch a sneak peek of the show here:
I recently had the chance to sit down with Gotham about Help Desk to talk about the first episode featuring his father, Deepak Chopra.
Eric Handler (EH): How did you pitch this idea to your father? What was his initial reaction?
Gotham Chopra (GC): My father considers my ideas as representational of my generation. He empathizes with people who are inspired by wisdom traditions but still sometimes struggle to integrate those values into everyday living. Through me, I think he sometimes can translate his ideas into a language that is more grounded. We are a good team!
EH: When we spoke about a year ago when Decoding Deepak released, we talked about your father’s ability to connect with people. You made the reference to: “They are singing in the shower, and whoever happens to be listening, listens.” Was it a challenge for your father to speak to so many people one on one, with no idea what someone might ask, rather than to a large audience?
GC: He’s very good at what he does and never been short on the ability to talk! I don’t believe there’s any question he won’t answer. That’s certainly not to say he always has the right answer, and he’d be the first to say that, but, for him, I think every question opens up a new way of thinking. My father is genuinely the MOST curious person I know. I really think he enjoys engagement with people, be it as individuals or groups. He’s authentic in that way—he’s out there doing Help Desk and what he does because he enjoys it, not because I asked him. And whatever challenge exists out there, he very willfully and excitedly takes it on.
EH: Obviously your father has an enormous following, known for speaking in front of large audiences and being active on social media. Why did you feel now was the right time to bring him into this more intimate one-on-one setting?
GC: That suggests there was some sort of conscious plan or strategy behind it all! I’m not kidding—for me and the great team that created Help Desk, I think we just thought of it as an interesting experiment. We wanted to try and bring his wisdom and that of others like him directly to the people on the street who most needed it.
The Help Desk format seemed like the simplest way of achieving it. The show is as spontaneous as the people who show up and what they ask. And one thing you can count on with human beings is unpredictability!
EH: Of course the participants benefitted from this private time with your father, but what do you think your father gained from the experience?
GC: Every conversation and interaction for my father is an evolution of his own path. He’s a very curious and intellectually hungry person, and I think he really enjoys exposure to people and their points of views. Being Human is a never ending evolution for him, and I think he learns from every experience. He always says that the day he “stops working, stops teaching, stops learning” is the day he’ll die. So fingers crossed this train keeps moving!
EH: In viewing the trailer, there are tons of people standing in line. Was it difficult for you and/or your father to have to call “time” without getting to everyone? Was there some sort of screening process or was it “first come, first serve?”
GC: We had a really great team led by director Mark Rinehart and producer Zack Smith that created a process that empowered and excited people just to be a part of Help Desk. (Having Oprah’s endorsement didn’t hurt too!) Not everyone gets their question answered, but everyone who showed up got to be a part of the event, and, even in that, I think there was something very empowering to all. We live in very interesting times: People have a lot of questions and concerns, and even if they don’t get a specific answer to their question, I think being part of a community—even briefly—that is collectively seeking, is invigorating and healing. That was probably the biggest takeaway and why we really hope and believe Help Desk can be a powerful cultural movement.
EH: Did you find most of the attendees were loyal Deepak followers, looking for that once in a lifetime encounter, or were people drawn there who were not as familiar with his work?
GC: It was a combination of both. Certainly, he has a great following that helps seed any event like that. But setting it in a place like NYC ensures that, inevitably, you’ll draw a diverse crowd of people that are curious by the spectacle of it all. And like I mentioned above, I think once people really understood what we were trying to do, Chopra fans and strangers alike just wanted to be a part of it and that was really inspiring and re-assuring to us. I think the greatest wisdom and solutions in our culture resides in most of us; people like my dad just help bring it out.
EH: Are there plans to do more of these Help Desk sessions?
GC: On OWN, right after my dad’s session on Help Desk, we have another episode airing with Reverend Ed Bacon—an absolutely awesome teacher who did a session of Help Desk in Venice, California and provided some powerful moments with people. I know all of us that were there in person were moved by some of the exchanges he had with people. And we’re starting to architect more sessions with more teachers in more locations so, hopefully, Help Desk will be in a city near you soon. Watch the show, tell your friends, email Oprah…this is just the start!