Addiction, Incarceration, and Transformational Love - How Queer Filmmaker Vik Chopra Found His Voice

By Ellie Pike & Vik Chopra

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Growing up, Vik Chopra was not the kid most people assumed would end up serving a sentence in Federal prison. A student leader with straight A’s and numerous volunteer hours, Vik secretly hid pain and shame beneath a shiny outward persona - with disastrous consequences.

Now a filmmaker, actor, and writer who has embraced his queer and South Asian identities, Vik takes us on a transformational journey through addiction, incarceration, and rebirth. His story is a testament to the powers of embracing community, fostering daily practices, and forgiving ourselves.

Transcript

Vik Chopra: 
My name is Vik Chopra. I am a queer South Asian, formerly incarcerated filmmaker, actor and writer, currently based out of the Los Angeles area. Originally from Seattle, Washington.

Ellie Pike: 
Growing up, Vik was not the kid most people assumed would wind up serving a sentence in federal prison.

Vik Chopra: 
I was an honor student all throughout school, pretty much straight A's all the way up until high school. Senior year, I was president of a multicultural club. I was a senior class representative. I was a natural helper. I volunteered on this Indian Youth board and I was a camp counselor, literally all these things.

Ellie Pike: 
Yet through a blinding darkness of depression and self-hatred, his early promise quickly got replaced by an unchecked drug addiction supported through crime. His story of survival and recovery is a testament to the powers of embracing community, fostering daily practices, and forgiving ourselves. Today he brings us on that transformational journey and explains why he now works so hard to center the voices of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated persons. You are listening to Mental Note Podcast. I'm Ellie Pike. Well, thank you so much for being here today. Your story is really grand and I would love to start maybe at the beginning.

Vik Chopra: 
Yeah, definitely. I grew up in a town just South of Seattle called Renton, Washington. Overall, pretty typical, I guess you could say, middle class, suburban childhood. My parents immigrated from India in the early 70s. I was born here in Seattle in '81. My father and I had a pretty... I don't really know what's the best word to describe our relationship. He was a very angry man, very angry, very angry at the world. And I think having him as a father really showed me how not to be. I guess you could say he was very verbally, mentally abusive a few times physically, but nothing that I would classify as I'm a victim of physical violence from him. But besides that, my mother was amazing. My mother is literally my hero and an angel on this Earth, so she really provided for us. I mean, they both provided financially, but my mother was so loving and supporting and nurturing.

Around 13 or 14 years old was when I started to realize I was different, i.e, that I was gay, but I couldn't come to terms with that. And so that played out in very unhealthy behaviors, starting from a very young age of 15 of actually going into a OL chat rooms and stuff. And then eventually just started hooking up with people like anonymous random hookups as a teenager, which is extremely unhealthy. And that actually through my early 20s until I finally came out. But overall, I was generally happy, but then I had this underlying turmoil, and it's a really interesting dichotomy now that I think about it, because when I was with my friends and stuff, I had a really, I guess, powerful denial mechanism in my head because I could shut that off, but then it would come out in other ways. But I definitely thought about suicide a lot because I just couldn't imagine being this person or why God or the universe or source, why I would turn out this way.

It just was something I couldn't grasp or nor that I want it to be. So that I think triggered a lot of unhealthy behavior, not only sexually, but with partying. After I had hooked up with the first person when I was 15, I smoked my first cigarette, smoked weed for the first time, drank for the first time, and then that just set me on this path of experimentation and then just partying a lot, which went into college as well. So I graduated in the year 2000, and then went straight into the University of Washington and joined a fraternity. And that just was all the support I needed to become a functioning alcoholic, drug addict, everything. So it was a good time, but also I look back on my life pre coming out and it was just, there was always an underlying depression. There was always an underlying, "I hate myself, I'm not happy with myself. I don't want to be this way. Why did you make me this way?"

Ellie Pike: 
When you were experiencing that, did you feel pretty lonely at the time, or did you have any outlet for talking to anyone about your depressive thoughts?

Vik Chopra: 
No, I mean, I could talk to my friends about being depressed, but I couldn't articulate because there's no way that I would tell anybody that I had sexual thoughts towards boys or the same sex. I was just like, "No, I can never ever talk about it." I made it through college and finally came out when I was 24. So a couple of years after college, I was living in Seattle with some friends in a house, and I don't know, I just reached a point where I couldn't live like that anymore. The stress of hooking up with people randomly that I didn't know and all the dangers that could come with that. Plus just finally realizing what I wanted in life and wanted a relationship, and then just realizing, "Oh, I can actually have that with somebody that I'm sexually attracted to." Like, "Oh, I'm actually just gay, and that's okay." And so that was a really beautiful moment for me.

Ellie Pike: 
And what was it like when you came out? Did you feel like it took as much courage as I imagine it took? Or was it like, "Oh my gosh, I'm like in the safe environment. I can tell these few people at a time."

Vik Chopra: 
My mom, I didn't tell until a year later, and that was a little rough for a few days, but then she came around. She just, culturally, I think she just went through a lot in her head, but then she was just like, "No, I love you. It's fine. I accept you. This is fine." But no, when I came out to my friends, it was a whole ticker tape, sparkly gay parade. I just came out and everybody was like, "Yes, yay, let's go out." I got cards and got taken out to dinner, and everybody's just like, "We love you. We just want you to be you, and we want you to be happy." So it was really great.

Ellie Pike: 
That sounds really amazing. And what about your father?

Vik Chopra: 
I didn't tell my father, actually, because he was out of my life at the time. So my parents split up when I was... Right after college, 23. And so I literally never spoke to my father again after that. Never.

Ellie Pike: 
Wow, that's such a transition.

Vik Chopra: 
Yeah, I was actually grateful he left because he was so toxic and angry and just not a good person. So when he would fight with my mom and he would fight with her a lot, he would fight with the whole family, he would get mad at all of us, bring us all into it for some crazy reason. I mean, he definitely was mentally ill. Just not diagnosed. I'm thinking definitely bipolar, if not other things as well. So yeah, so when he left, it was a relief. It was like, "Oh, he's gone, thank God." And so I didn't feel the need to tell him, and I was like, "No, you don't get to know this part about me. You're not in my life anymore." And it was almost just good riddance.

Ellie Pike: 
Well, and it sounds like your mom really is a soft landing place, and the way you describe her is so nurturing. She watched you excel, have straight A's, all through school, through 12th grade. And then as you had been in that tumultuous college environment, you said you were barely getting by. Do you think she noticed your mental health in the process, or was that something that was pretty well hidden from her?

Vik Chopra: 
I hid it pretty well. I mean, I definitely struggled freshman year, and I told her about what I was going through, and back then it was just like, "Okay, go to the doctor and get on antidepressants." And I did that for a short amount of time, but was like, no, I couldn't even... A, I just didn't really want to take antidepressants at the time. And then B, I just wasn't functioning properly to even remind myself to take a pill every day. So yeah.

Ellie Pike: 
So you talked about self-medicating through that whole period of time and then coming out when you were 24, did your level of drug use shift or look different after you came out, or were those related at all?

Vik Chopra: 
Well, ironically, so right around that time, I had gotten a second DUI because hey, two is better than one. And so I had to take a really hard look at myself, and I actually had to do an intensive outpatient IOP program. And so I actually got sober at that time, but it was pills and Vicodin, Percocet that were still in my purview, and I was getting kidney stones, so I was getting them prescribed a lot. So I kind of made the excuse that, "Okay, I could still take these and whatever." I had stopped drinking, stopped smoking weed, pretty much stop partying for a while. And then I met my boyfriend at the time, and that's when things started to pick back up, I guess, with using and with substances. So with him, I didn't start drinking again, but with him, I started smoking weed again, and then we started doing pills together again, and then that's what ultimately led to our addiction.

Ellie Pike: 
Would you be open to sharing a little bit about your drug addiction and where that led?

Vik Chopra: 
Yeah, of course. I was a different person back then. I had just come out, I was just so desperate for love, and I still hadn't done the work on myself. I didn't truly love myself, and so I just accepted the love that I thought I deserved, which was a very toxic relationship with this person. It was a wrong fit right from the start, but I just made excuses. I mean, I contributed to it as well, but we just were not a good fit. And so we started a habit of doing pills together. And then probably after four or five months of dating, if I could remember correctly, we found a dealer that sold Oxycontin. And then once we found that, then it was just done deal. So it was a slow burn at first, but then it turned eventually into an everyday habit, and then everything just started to spiral out of control.

From there, I was working for the local PBS station in Seattle. I had been there for about three years, and I left there and went to a radio station called KEXP, and I pretty much only lasted there like nine, 10 months. And then I got laid off, and I definitely got laid off because of my attendance, because my attendance was shit. We started borrowing money from everybody, family, friends, and then people start talking, and it's just a lot of shady behavior. We were living in an area of Seattle called Ballard. We had to leave that apartment, went to apartment in West Seattle, we're there for a little while, had to leave that one, went to another one. And then that apartment is where we ultimately got evicted. And at that point, five years in the relationship, he had started becoming physically abusive towards me. Actually, we had gotten into a fight.

He put me in the hospital, I still stayed. Family and all of our friends were like, "You guys should not be together." And so then once we got evicted, nobody would house us together. They're like, "Yeah, you can come back home, but you need to be by yourself." And we just couldn't leave each other. We were so co-dependent, co-addicted. It was very toxic. And so we were living in Seattle. We moved up to an area of Washington called Snohomish County, which is where we were getting all of our drugs from anyway, and then pretty much lived like a homeless life of just bouncing around from living with addicts in their apartment, in a room to another pair of addicts and living in their space, and then motels. And then we met this woman who was really into fraud and identity theft. And at that point we had started stealing to make money like boosting from stores, and I had never stolen anything in my life.

And also meth had come into the picture. So it was Oxy turned smoking heroin, turned to smoking, heroin and meth, and then becoming homeless. So it was just a perfect storm for fuckery and tragedy. So I just thought my life was over. I just really didn't see a way out. I thought this is what my life was going to be, and then whatever happens, happens. So when we moved in with this woman and her husband, we started learning how to do identity theft and fraud, and that's when things took off for about a year and a half of doing that. And then me, my then our friend, the three of us were arrested on March 28th, 2013 in Mukilteo, Washington after about a year and a half. And so that's what led me down my path of incarceration and ultimately redemption.

Ellie Pike: 
Tell me a little bit more about that transition where you were like, "Okay, this is just my path. This is just what's happening. I guess we'll just see," to this specific date, March 28th, 2013, and I believe you had multiple charges and felony charges, right? So the transition from that to incarceration I imagine was this huge wake up point. Did you have to become clean and sober in that whole process as well?

Vik Chopra: 
I had been an addict at that point then for several years. So every day for three, four years. So at that point, I just felt like a lost soul. I had no sense of self anymore at all. I looked in the mirror and I didn't recognize myself. I hated who I was. So yeah, I got sent to Snohomish County Jail was in really bad withdrawal for about two weeks. And then really the fog started to clear after maybe a month, two months. And I just looked around the room one day and was just like, "Wow, look at where you're at. Look at what happened, look at where you were, and then look at where you are now."

And that was kind of my rock bottom moment. And it was actually a really beautiful moment for me because I realized that I didn't want that to be the final point. I wanted it to be the midpoint of my story, and now I have this redemption arc. And so I committed myself to changing my life, and I knew that was my second chance. So March 29th, 2013 actually ended up becoming my clean and sober date I've never used since then. So I just recently celebrated 11 years of being clean and sober from alcohol, any substance, cigarettes, everything. So that was done. That was it, last day.

Ellie Pike: 
Congratulations. That's incredible.

Vik Chopra: 
Thank you very much. Thank you. So at that point, I didn't realize I was going to do five years, but I ended up doing five years, ended up doing 58 months, being a first time felon. Still, they threw the book at us, they were not happy. I ended up getting an 84-month sentence of which I did 58 because in Washington state, in state prisons, you get a third off for a good time. And in that five years, I worked on completely rebuilding myself from the ground up, like mind, body, and soul.

What really started it for me was physically working out, and that set the foundation for everything else for me because I had never worked out in my life ever before. I mean, I'd played tennis in high school, but didn't know how to lift weights, didn't know how to work out. And so I started learning. And in jail, you don't get weights, at least the jail I was at, we didn't get weights until you went to prison. And I was stuck in that jail for 16 months waiting to get sentenced, didn't go outside for 16 months, didn't have music. Jail is not meant for long-term housing. It's just meant for pretrial or anything, any sentence that's less than a year. So like misdemeanor stuff.

Ellie Pike: 
Can I pause you for one second? I'm trying to picture not going outside for 16 months and what would happen to my mental health? What was happening for your mental health at that point?

Vik Chopra: 
It was a struggle, so I really focused on working out. That was it. I worked out every day. I mean, I couldn't do a pushup when I started. So I started doing pushups on my knees and then crunches, and then it built up from there. And then we would use our laundry bags and fill it with books to do curls or me and my cellie would use towels and I would curl the towel and he would hold it down for resistance, and you'd find different ways to work out. But I just focused on that because it was the one thing that I could have some control over because you just have no control over anything in there. They control everything.

They tell you when to sleep, they tell you when to shower, they tell you when to eat, everything. And after a while, it started to wear on me of like, "Wow, I haven't gone outside. I haven't felt sunlight. Just get me out of here. Get me the fuck out of here." I was just so ready to... Prison, sounded like a vacation. And to be honest, when I got there, it was, so we were finally sentenced in August of 2014, and ultimately all three of us had to plead guilty to 25 counts of identity theft. And then I had a pending drug charge too. So I ended up pleading guilty to 26 felonies. So I have 26, I went from zero to 26 felonies.

Ellie Pike: 
And you say that with a slight smile on your face because that's the...

Vik Chopra: 
Because it's just so ridiculous. It's just ridiculous, right? It's like, "What the fuck?" How do... But it is what it is. They weren't happy. And prosecution was asking for an exceptional sentence over our standard sentencing range. They wanted 10 years. They wanted 120. I didn't know what I was getting until I went up in front of the judge that day for sentencing. I say luckily, luckily he gave me 84 months, but I had rectified that in my head, like, okay, if I get in the standard range, I'll be fine because that's just another three and a half years.

So we got sentenced in August. The next week we finally got to ride the chain bus to prison, and I remember it was August, so it was hot, and I felt the sun, and it was just like coming back alive again after being dead. It was like I was revived and we got to go to yard that day. So I got to go walk around the yard in the sunshine, and then at Shelton, they have radios in the room, you can turn it on, and the corrections officers playing music. So all of a sudden got music again. And so yeah, it was almost like a rebirth experience going to prison.

Ellie Pike: 
I can only imagine. I mean, just the description of sunshine after that long is incredible.

Vik Chopra: 
Also, ironically, I rode the chain bus with my ex. So this man that I had had a life with, built this life and then ultimately destroyed it. We actually rode the prison bus together and then went our separate ways. But I had this moment of we're just looking at us and we're in our orange jumpsuits, shackled, riding this prison, going to prison after six years of just destruction. And it was crazy. It was a crazy moment.

Ellie Pike: 
Did you talk to each other?

Vik Chopra: 
At that point yeah, because me, him and Dave would see each other for our court dates. We were in separate units, but they would bring us all down and we got sentenced. We took our plea deal together, got sentenced together.

Ellie Pike: 
Oh, I gotcha.

Vik Chopra: 
Yeah. But then after that, we went our separate ways, and I was really glad. I'm so grateful because if we had ended up doing time together, I wouldn't have gotten the separation or the clarity that I needed to just make the decision that I can never speak to him again. And that's just because it took me, I think a little while to get to that point too, of finally just letting it go, being like, "No, you have to leave that behind. You have to say goodbye. And that has closed that chapter." So yeah, it was crazy. It still took me a minute to get to that point, but luckily I had enough separation from him where I finally, it was like, "No, okay, no, I'm done. I'm done."

Ellie Pike: 
Wow. There's so much to your story. I'm wondering if you could dive into a little bit about painting the picture of what incarceration was like, and maybe not the ins and outs necessarily, but I know there's a lot of stereotypes and that it could still be a really violent place or this or that and the other. I'm sure you could rattle off all the stigma that's associated with it, but what was it really like?

Vik Chopra: 
Prison is a violent place and can be, I was lucky that I was classified as minimum security. So I was in a cell with bars, but there was open movement usually most of the day, they offered a AA program. They had lots of vocational training like welding, carpentry, diesel mechanics, things like that. But if you weren't in school, they expected you to work. So I ended up getting probably the best job that you could there. I was a golf cart driver, and I drove corrections officers between the two big complexes there at the penitentiary in Walla Walla. So don't get me wrong, prison is trauma and it's traumatic, and there's no ifs, ands, or buts about it. I still have trauma that I'm processing from it, I think to this day, and I've been out for six years, but I mean it pretty much looked like it looks like on TV.

It was two tiers. Each section of my unit, there was three units there. We had the bars. And so every night those bars would close and they would lock you in at night until they opened them again at 6:00 AM. But a typical day for me would be like I'd get up, I'd go to breakfast, and then I'd go to work, and then I'd be out in the golf cart all day up until afternoon, evening lockdown. So then I'd come back and then it's afternoon lockdown for count. So then they count you out, go eat. So then I'd go eat with my friends and then I'd come back, I ready to go work out, and then they would call yard and rec. So then I would get to the weight deck and then go lift, come back, shower, and then just unwind for the night and either watch TV or I would write or read or you just wash, rinse, repeat that every day.

And then I started meditating probably my last year that I was there. And so I made that a daily practice, which is something I still do, like fitness and meditation completely changed my life. But yeah, just developing these habits of personal development and working on myself. And I also hand wrote two screenplays when I was away too, because I had taken screenwriting classes online through UCLA extension when I was working for PBS, and then pretty much was like, "Okay, you've always wanted to be a director. You've always wanted to be a filmmaker, so just do it. Why not just do it? I'm just going to be a filmmaker when I get out." I was already an actor. I'd been represented by a talent agent when I was working for PBS and KEXP, so it wasn't farfetched, and I was building up to that anyway, so just constantly setting myself up for my release date when I got out so I could hit the ground running.

Ellie Pike: 
You clearly are someone who's very resilient and you seem to really make choices to take everything in stride of like, "Okay, this could break me, or this could make me and I can change the storyline." So it's amazing what you've done on your own just in that whole process of trying to set yourself up for success once you got out of prison. I remember in one of our first conversations, you said prison was crowded loneliness, and I'd love for you to talk about that a little and maybe even add onto that. What was the perspective of mental health in the prison system? Because it seems like you did a lot on your own, but did you even have support around you?

Vik Chopra: 
Yeah, so when I say prison is crowded loneliness, you're never alone because there's always people around, but it's like you're always alone because it's so isolating. They really just medicated mental health patients from what I can remember. So when you have a prescription, you have to go to what's called pill line, and there's a lot of people in that line. So I know there's a lot of medication happening. I don't think there was therapy or anything like that. I think that's changing now, which is really great. But I think more mental health services are being offered. I mean, it wasn't really like I could go to therapy in there. I had a "counselor" in my unit, but he didn't know that wasn't what that was for. And I felt like if I would've told him I was struggling or sad or depressed, he would've had me put in isolation or something. So yeah.

Ellie Pike: 
So you were really dealing with your mental health on your own.

Vik Chopra: 
I mean, I had support and I couldn't have gone through it without the support of my mom, my best friend, and then my friends in prison, my boys who were there for me. And community has always been big for me and cultivating community. And now that I'm out as well, I have a large community of friends, of really true friends that I can count on. You need them, I need them. I couldn't have done this on my own.

Ellie Pike: 
Clearly you found your ways moving your body, working out, meditation, having a good community of friends inside and outside of prison. So all of this was really powerful. It's really powerful for me to hear because my heart just breaks knowing that there's not that much access to mental healthcare. I would love to dive in a little bit to the idea of shame, where there's so much stigma, whether that's internal or externally assigned to felons or ex-prisoners, right? I'm curious for you how you have moved past this idea of shame and the role of forgiveness and acceptance.

Vik Chopra: 
So there was just a lot of shame inherent when I got sober and realizing what I had done and shame and guilt and for committing crimes and hurting those people and the people I love. And I had to work on forgiving myself, realizing that we are all human and I'm not alone in that journey. And even though my journey led me to committing crimes, and not everybody does that, and I understand that, but nobody is perfect and everybody makes choices and mistakes, but if you can realize that and then make the choice to live a different life and to be better, that's the first step. And so once I realized that I was doing that I could work on forgiving myself and I stumble, I fall. It's like we are not infallible creatures, but I was just able to finally just forgive myself. And then after forgiveness came love for myself.

And that's something that was really difficult for me. My friend started challenging me to look at myself in the mirror and say, I love you to myself and mean. And that was a really powerful practice that I couldn't do for a while, that I would just start crying. I couldn't say it, and now I can. And now I do love myself and self-love is a practice. It's not like, "Oh, I love myself and now I'm perfect and I love myself," and I will always love myself. It's a constant thing of working on loving myself. So it's a constant practice.

Joy is a practice, happiness is a practice, and it's a choice. It's not going to be an external factor that makes you happy. You have a choice in the matter no matter what. One of the things I learned in prison, it was like on the wall somewhere, and I've kept it to this day, is that life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond to it. So you always have somewhat of a choice, and you always have ultimate control. Even if you can't control the external factors, you can always control your internal side.

Ellie Pike: 
So for you, I'm really amazed at your resilience, and I'm curious how your perspective has shifted throughout your journey. So how have you done it and what are some of the ways that you continue to process your mental health journey?

Vik Chopra: 
So fitness, meditation, huge. Having a strong support system of friends that I can call or just say that I'm struggling, and I've been really leaning into meditation, really leaning into my community. Also, really leaning into giving back. I go volunteer in prisons. I was actually just in Arizona at prisons out there. I'm now a volunteer at the prison I was housed at. We just are starting a podcast program there as well. So it's my goal to have a full-fledged media lab at some point there. But now we got an in prison being recorded inside the walls with the guys. We have four amazing hosts that are incarcerated, and we're starting that program as well. Creating and telling stories drives me, the name of my production company is Incarcerated Productions. We're out to shift the stigma and the paradigm towards incarcerated and formerly incarcerated humans. So it's not just like one thing. It's many things that I lean on to move forward and to live my life.

Ellie Pike: 
Vic, that's incredible that that's the narrative that you can share with yourself and keep practicing and just as an ongoing practice, whether that's meditation or self-love practice, and in the process, you're doing an incredible job reshaping the narrative that's been assigned to felons or addicts. So thank you so much for sharing your story with us today. We're thrilled to have you on the show, thrilled to know you and to be a part of your story and vice versa. So thank you.

Vik Chopra: 
Thank you so much. I really appreciate the opportunity, and I'm going to invite you into some new terminology too. Instead of saying felons, say, formerly incarcerated or justice impacted or returning citizen, any of those is a more humanizing term to use in that instance of somebody coming out of prison.

Ellie Pike: 
I really appreciate this. Yeah, thank you.

Vik Chopra: 
There's always learning opportunities and with guys, men and women that are inside too, or humans that are inside. We used to be called offenders or convicts or whatever, and now even Washington State, DOC has started to use the term incarcerated individual, which is more humanizing because we are, we're all just human. Whether people want to look at me that way or not, I'm really proud of what I went through. I turned what many considers the worst thing that could ever happen to you, and I turned it into the best thing that could have ever happened to me. So it's a badge of honor that I wear.

Ellie Pike: 
Wow. Thank you so much.

Vik Chopra: 
Thank you so much for having me.

Ellie Pike: 
Vic has lived in an incredible life finding purpose and joy after years of devastating pain and struggle. His superpower is in focusing on what he truly cares about, his core values. Through community, joyful movement and artistic expression, he is taking all that personal momentum and amplifying it to honor his community through storytelling. I encourage you to check out the podcasts and films he's making with justice impacted individuals. They're inspiring, challenging, and deeply human works. You can find it all on the Incarcerated Productions website, incarcerated.com. Thank you for listening to Mental Note Podcast. Our show is brought to you by Eating Recovery Center and Path Light, Mood and Anxiety Center. If you'd like to talk to a trained therapist about general mood and anxiety treatment or the substance related addictive disorders program, please call them at (877) 850-7199. If you need a free support group, check out eating recovery.com/support-groups and pathlightbh.com/support-groups. If you like our show, sign up for our e-newsletter and learn more about the people we [email protected]. We'd also love it if you left us a review on iTunes. It helps others find our podcast. Mental Note is produced and hosted by me, Ellie Pike, edited by Carrie Daniels and directed by Sam Pike. Till next time.

Presented by

Ellie Pike, MA, LPC

Ellie Pike is the Sr. Manager of Alumni/Family/Community Outreach at ERC & Pathlight Behavioral Health Centers. Over the years, she creatively combined her passions for clinical work with…
Presented by

Vik Chopra

Vik Chopra is a filmmaker, writer, actor and all-around creative on a quest to change the world through storytelling, particularly through the lens of the queer community and those that have…

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