“I know I am not boring,” she says as she paves her way through a pool of questions wanting to know if she feels guilty and if she calls herself a criminal. It’s been two years since Netflix’s iconic controversial investigative documentary series Wild Wild Country. More than anything in the Rajneeshpuram, even more than Osho, one person that took the world by storm was Ma Anand Sheela. She is coming back to India after 35 years of leaving it. And it calls for an emotional, powerful and full of questions comeback ceremony. Shakun Batra with Netflix celebrates just that.
Cast: Maa Anand Sheela, Karan Johar, and Barkha Dutt.
Searching For Sheela Review: What’s It About:
Born Sheela Ambalal Patel in Vadodara, Gujarat, Ma Anand Sheela has had an adventurous journey of her own. From becoming Osho’s most trusted aid to becoming the backbone of his organisation in Oregon, to fleeing from him (which she doesn’t call fleeing), Sheela is a character impossible to dissect in a single day. Pleading guilty of attempt to murder, wire taping and bioterror attack, she was sentenced to 20-year imprisonment. But released on parole in 39 months on grounds of good behaviour.
She comes back to India after 35 years and begins the journey of a controversial figure scaling her roots, and fighting the gaze that she has been almost a major part of her life.
Searching For Sheela Review: What Works:
For someone who has lived in awe of a lady who in her own way defined feminism and the greyest greys of being a woman unapologetically, you know what Netflix’s Searching For Sheela means. Now not that I am completely in the agreement with what she did, nor do I glorify the wrongs (what out of that is wrong, is also a subjective approach). What I am in complete agreement with is the spirit and unbreakable determination that a lady has led her entire life with.
Welcomed at the Delhi airport, and taken to the Raw Mango outlet in the capital, we finally meet Sheela in her element. Her frame may have become frailer, age might have made her slower, but her words still cut as sharp as any knife till date. She has come back to her home ground after scandals that are way bigger than Bollywood scandals we are used to reading about. Karan Johar even calls the Bollywood scandals Kindergarten scandals in front of hers.
From this point begins the journey of understanding who Sheela is. And she is a jigsaw puzzle that no one has yet solved. Searching For Sheela is not about finding answers to your questions; it is about the constant questions that Sheela has been facing for years. She expresses how everyone she meets has the same questions whether she did the crimes, or is she a criminal, and if she and Osho were a thing.
Talking to Karan Johar, she even admits she and Osho never had s*x. She says, “She was drowning in him, and his eyes were probably more beautiful than his p*nis.” And Searching With Sheela is full of such comebacks. Because the ghost of the past never leaves her. In the elite club somewhere in Delhi, someone in the crowd wants to know if she pleaded guilty and if she did commit the crime. So does renowned photographer Raghu Rai. And Sheela, with a smile and elegance, shows them all their place.
The crux of this 58-minute long documentary lies in what she feels of people that she meets every single day since she has come out of jail. She is technically living one single question for decades now and has made armour around her not to let that question ever found her off guard.
But the chinks in the armour shine, when Sheela visits her childhood home in Vadodara. A rather elegant, strong and ferocious lady sheds tears as she reminisces the time gone sitting on her father’s swing. It’s Shakun Batra executive producing this directorless documentary. I suppose he has put it all together, and you know his finesse in showing the raw emotions.
She is supporting a man (Osho) who publicly called her a prostitute, a murderer and many other things. But he still has a place on her walls, in her heart. To an extent where not once in the documentary she mentions her husbands, or daughters, but only Rajneesh.
Searching For Sheela Review: What Doesn’t Work:
As I said in my headline, Sheela catches the frenzy, but the runtime kills. It is a woman who has, in a way, led a revolution for lakhs of people. A lady who has seen rise and fall to their maximum. Just 58 minutes cannot define what she stands for.
What it instead leads to us staying just above the surface. I know Sheela is not letting her guard fall, nor is she allowing anyone enters her safe zone. But that does not mean we don’t explore. For a viewer who doesn’t know the level of scandals that this woman has led, this would turn out to be a half baked product. I wish we would have had more indulgence with this one.
Searching For Sheela Review: Last Words:
Even if Sheela dissects her complete life for you, there will still be questions. There is no way one can understand this woman completely in one life. Because she herself is trying to find who she is. Coming out from a man (Batra) whose parents were Osho’s followers (but not fond of Sheela), Searching For Sheela is about the monotony of questions and the burden of the past that she lives and conquers every day.
“I am a mirror for them. I reflect the other, so what they want to see, they will find in me,” -Ma Anand Sheela.