‘Searching for Sheela’ Summary & Analysis – A Misplaced Sense of Feminism

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Searching for Sheela is a documentary directed by Shakun Batra. It focuses on the infamous life of Sheela Ambalal Patel a.k.a Ma Anand Sheela. She was the spokesperson of the commune started by Acharya Rajneesh. She was one of the most influential aides of Chandra Mohan Jain, or as he was fondly called by his devotees, “Bhagwan” or “Osho”.  The documentary film focuses on her return to the subcontinent after a hiatus of 35 years. It puts light upon her side of the story which she thinks that nobody was willing to hear up until now. 


Biggest bioterror Attack in the History of the United States

Ma Anand Sheela was accused of orchestrating one of the most lethal bioterror attacks in Oregon County. She did plead guilty for the same and was sentenced to jail for 20-year imprisonment. She came out on parole in 39 months and paid a fine of 470000 dollars. Apart from poisoning the salad bars in Easco County, Oregon, she was also accused of crimes like wiretapping, attempted murder, and misappropriation of funds. After she came out, she settled in Switzerland, where she opened two nursing homes for elderly people suffering from mental ailments.


Multi-faceted Life of Ma Anand Sheela

What Wild Wild Country (a Netflix docu-drama based on the life of Osho), was successful in doing was, showing us the naked facts and leaving it up to us which way to lean. This is not the case with Searching for Sheela. The documentary tries to swindle your decision. But the biggest problem arises when Ma Sheela is shown as a fierce feminist that has fought the odds and carved out her own way. She might be an ambassador of women empowerment but that decision should be left up to you. Showing her in a sympathetic light is equivalent to coercing everyone to think a certain way. Her life and her actions have been quite equivocal in nature. For some, she is Maa Sheela, for some a staunch feminist, and for some just a scammer who got saved from the shackles of law because she had huge sums of money to buy her freedom. As it is said money can make even the most dastardly situations look glamorous. Osho himself accused her of misappropriation of funds and wiretapping the ashram. To that Maa Sheela calmly responds that Bhagwan was taken over by delusion and anger. Then maybe calling him Bhagwan is ironic !!


The Problem with Inheriting Wealth

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When Ma Sheela came to India, she was being greeted as a star. Footages show us how she attended these private parties where people got starstruck by her presence and couldn’t resist but tell her how big fans they were of her. 

A particular subsection of the so-called elites of our society suffers from a very strong misconception in their lives. The subsection I am referring to comprises people who have inherited wealth without working for it. When you do not work for something and still get it and that too in surplus amounts, then you just fail to understand the value of it. The misconception they suffer from is that life has been harsh on them. It is agreeable that everyone has their own struggles, but in a country where over 20 crore people sleep hungry every day, and you are getting to have a four-course meal, then I think a little gratitude would suffice. 

This clan of people unaware of the social scenario of the country they live in declared that they were a part of the Ma Sheela Fandom. I understand that Ma Sheela had a controversial life and she was a popular personality but what I don’t understand is what did she do that people have become such huge fans of her. Maybe it’s the fact that she is coming from the west or maybe she was a part of the commune that people still think to be in vogue or maybe she is one of the “whos who”, and an association with her helps you climb the ladder of social hierarchy. Explanations of this fandom could be many, but unknowingly the documentary shows us that if you tick certain prerequisites, then you can seep in through the fickle minds of people and project yourself in a good light. The life of Ma Sheela I believe was not so problematic as the mindsets of the people around her. 

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If she hasn’t done anything to be ashamed of, as she puts it in an unabashed manner, then she also hasn’t done anything to be venerated. 


Searching for Sheela doesn’t give us any new insight into the controversial life of Ma Anand Sheela but slyly tries to put the curtains of sympathy in front of our eyes. The documentary film is streaming on Netflix

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Sushrut Gopesh
I came to Mumbai to bring characters to life. I like to dwell in the cinematic world and ponder over philosophical thoughts. I believe in the kind of cinema that not necessarily makes you laugh or cry but moves something inside you.

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