Film Review: Searching for Sheela

Film Review: Searching for Sheela

After Netflix’s Emmy award-winning series ‘Wild Wild Country’, the lens has now shifted focus from the controversial Indian cult leader “Bhagwan or Osho Rajneesh” to his equally controversial “secretary”, Ma Anand Sheela. In 1986, she was convicted by an American court of law of conspiring to commit immigration fraud, biowarfare and wiretapping.

Applying a somewhat sympathetic tone, this documentary mirrors Sheela’s transformation from the fierce Ma Anand Sheela, the brain of Rajneeshpuram in Orgeon, to a caring Sheela Birnstiel, founder of Matrusaden, a home for the disabled in Maisprach, Switzerland. The film chronicles her life, after she has served her sentence in prison for 36 months, at her special help home and goes on to beautifully project her homecoming to India after a long gap of 35 years.

As we watch her face the cameras once again, we witness a rather tamed Sheela still spurting a few meretricious comments when interviewed by journalist Barkha Dutt, film director Karan Johar and journalist Shoma Chaudhury. Throughout the documentary, the clips of her blatant comebacks at the American journalists, her bold speeches to the “Rajneeshis” (followers of the Rajneesh cult) will make you wonder if the world will now know her as someone quite different that the right-hand of the cult leader.

Her craze for Osho still reflects in her eyes as she vocalises her relationship and unconditional love for the “Bhagwan”. Till date, it seems there is no anger for a man who once tagged her as “a murderer” and instead she is seen paying a visit to the burning ghat were her “guru” was cremated.

The one-hour-long docufilm attempt to present another side to her image as an anti-hero of sorts. Sheela retorts: “I have built the finest city, why is nobody asking me where I got that strength from?”

As she sits on her father’s swing in the western Indian state of Gujarat, Sheela looks back at her childhood with much sorrow. The scene closes with Sheela surrendering herself to the residents at her old age home.

This is indeed Sheela’s story, lesser-known than that of the late cult leader “Osho Rajneesh”.

*iGlobal Review Series

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