Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Searching for Sheela’ on Netflix, a ‘Wild Wild Country’ Coda Focusing on Ma Anand Sheela’s Return to India

Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Searching for Sheela’ on Netflix, a ‘Wild Wild Country’ Coda Focusing on Ma Anand Sheela’s Return to India

Netflix documentary Looking for Sheela acts as a coda of types for the streamer’s hit 2018 restricted sequence Wild Wild Country, which chronicled the chaos in Antelope, Oregon within the early Eighties, when Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and his followers, regularly described as a non secular intercourse cult, primarily tried a hostile takeover of the quiet city. Those that devoured the doc sequence — or are sufficiently old to keep in mind the media protection of the occasions — actually know Ma Anand Sheela, the notorious proper hand of the Bhagwan, who did time for, amongst different issues, attempting to poison a giant swath of Antelope by contaminating native salad bars with salmonella, which occurs to be the worst home bioterror assault in historical past. Looking for Sheela takes an hour to meet up with the place she is lately by following her as she returns to India after many many years away, to go to her former dwelling — and promote her ebook, natch.

The Gist: Observe: For correct context, you may want to watch Wild Wild Nation (which our own Brett White called “a heavily-armed mash-up of a Scientology expose and a Jonestown massacre news report filtered through a Watergate-era political thriller”) earlier than you chew on this documentary. However right here’s a fast catch-up: After being convicted of tried homicide, fraud, and different costs in 1986, Sheela was launched from jail for good conduct after serving 39 months of a 20-year sentence. She moved to Switzerland, the place she purchased two nursing properties for disabled senior residents. Looking for Sheela director Shakun Batra adopted Sheela round in 2019, and we see her compassionately partaking with dwelling residents in between scenes of her speaking about how “people have to move on” from her previous and see her for who she is now. Notably, regardless of having famously fallen out with Rajneesh within the wake of her crimes, her workplace prominently options previous photographs of her and the guru.

Sheela’s first journey to India in lots of, a few years is sufficient of an occasion that it turns into a promotional tour for her 2012 autobiography that attracts the eye of quite a few superstar journalists. Recognized for being outspoken and contentious with the media — cue footage from the ’80s of Sheela flipping off an interviewer dwell on digicam — Sheela is older however exhibits she’s nonetheless able to sporting the “badass” persona she claims she put on out of necessity. We see her being interviewed on stage in entrance of enormous audiences, battling together with her well-known hosts for asking “the same old questions” over and over. It’s time for the remainder of the world to “get over it,” she insists. She complains concerning the lack of nuance and element in media protection of her, saying there are “shades of information” similar to there are shades of colours.

However there she is, drawing consideration primarily based wholly on her previous exploits, which she nonetheless denies regardless of her responsible pleas — which form of contradicts her insistence that having served her time means it’s time to speak about who she is now, not who she was then. She talks about how she nonetheless loves Rajneesh, and dishes on their deep, significant, however wholly platonic relationship. We see her go to Rajneesh’s cremation web site and her dwelling, the place she sits on the swing her father sat on, studying to family and friends her letters from jail. She Facetimes her daughter, explaining how she’s develop into a meme in India (though she barely is aware of what a meme is); she basks within the admiration of many, who need selfies with this well-known determine. After which she returns dwelling to Switzerland, the place she talks to residents about demise.

Picture: Aditya Kapoor

What Motion pictures Will It Remind You Of?: Past Wild Wild Nation, an episode of Forensic Files digs into Rajneesh and Sheela’s saga, as does the characteristic doc Guru: Bhagwan, His Secretary and His Bodyguard.

Efficiency Value Watching: ALL EYES ON SHEELA. Particularly as she works exceedingly arduous to management the world’s narrative of her. There aren’t any different notable characters on this movie.

Memorable Dialogue: Sheela unleashes a number of doozies right here:

“I do have a lot of unwanted baggage on my shoulder.”

“Just don’t call me ‘spiritual.’ ‘Criminal’ is better than ‘spiritual’.”

“I am without shame.”

“I’m just as much a human as any person here.”

And the dooziest, in reference to her love for the Bhagwan:

“His eyes were probably more beautiful than his penis was. I’m not sure, I have never seen it.”

Intercourse and Pores and skin: None, though we do kinda have to drive ourselves not to summon the visage of the Bhagwan’s wang.

Our Take: Those that have been obsessive about Wild Wild Nation is likely to be fascinated to tail Sheela for an hour even when Looking for Sheela tends to be shallow fluff with the occasional spicy second to show that she nonetheless adheres to her fiery public persona. She mingles with designers and celebrities, holds viewers in swank properties of the well-moneyed. The intent right here is to present Sheela in a optimistic gentle and provides her a chance to additional insist her innocence of all of the dangerous issues she insists the media refuses to stop perpetuating — “Redemption lies in guilt. That’s why I cannot redeem myself,” she says on the finish of the movie.

But it surely’s in no way troublesome to poke holes in her arguments. She claims the cameras round her present how she’s being clear, when her statements have a tendency to be obfuscatory. She appears particularly slippery when she’s in a roomful of individuals and asks them in the event that they’re “ruthlessly” trustworthy with themselves or in the event that they’re hypocrites, an try to present herself as human-just-like-everyone-else — however it’s a traditional false-equivalence maneuver, as a result of we are able to safely assume that the majority of these individuals haven’t accomplished time for bioterrorism. Curiously, the movie doesn’t get deeper into why she now works helping the aged; the best way it grazes the floor of her present occupation form of implies that such scenes of her being form to disabled individuals merely make her look good. Is she keen about it? Who is aware of. She’s nonetheless passionate concerning the Bhagwan although. If anybody’s actually looking out for who Sheela is, they need to preserve at it.

Our Name: STREAM IT, however with these two caveats: One, to button the highest button of your obsessive Wild Wild Nation/Rajneesh expertise. And two, so long as you method it with some wholesome skepticism, as a result of as is the case with documentary portrayals of controversial figures, neither outright acceptance nor outright condemnation of their perspective appears apt.

John Serba is a freelance author and movie critic primarily based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Learn extra of his work at or comply with him on Twitter: @johnserba.

Stream Searching for Sheela on Netflix

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