Ma Anand Sheela was a prominent figure in the religious movement headed by Bhagwan Rajneesh, better known as Osho. She devoted years to the man she loved and claims that he loved her back equally. This hour long documentary is a narration of her side of the life that she once had with Osho and post that.
Written and directed by Shakun Batra, the film largely focuses on her present life. Once a foul mouth and aggressive aid to Bhagwan, she has drastically changed into a 70 year old woman who has settled in Switzerland, speaks German and provides shelter to disabled people. Famous for being fearless, powerful and straightforward with her thoughts and words, Ma Sheela makes a comeback largely through this documentary which narrates her journey from serving prison to visiting her homeland, India after almost 35 years.
Throughout the film, you see her being a glorious, gracious old woman with ample composure within to withstand numerous interviews and questions which somehow revolve around her crimes and past. Although she boldly agrees to be innocent, one might wonder, why would someone serve prison for 39 months if they are not guilty? Besides this, she pointed out that the timeline of perception is unreliable and that somebody out there needs to take initiative and clear out all the buzz and humour that the media has created about her life, as a whole.
She is seen smiling and participating in all the dress-ups, poses for pictures and interactions in large gatherings. Whilst there seemed to be a woman searching for herself while she still constructed the concrete truth. She was struggling, mostly emotionally, as she mentioned in the film, “People meet me with formed perception from all that they have heard and read about it, but none of them wants to know my reality”. Moreover, she seemed tired of answering the same set of questions but either way, she was always ready with a comeback that stood apt for the person on the opposite side.
The documentary shows a delicate stance that she showcases to her audience. The fact that no matter how you define it, she is a woman who chooses to not be categorised or labelled in any specific way. There are some stand-out shots in the film which please the viewers in a way that would be a mass-appeal, like the interview she has with Karan Johar, wherein she is asked to elaborate on her relationship with Osho, and the one where she addresses young people in Delhi and talks about why she pleaded guilty. Another aesthetically pleasing segment in the film is the part where she visits her parents house in Gujarat. The sentimental display of her recollecting memories sitting on her father’s swing makes one empathize with her situation and understand her on a much more personal level. Besides this, Sheela is projected as a feisty woman who only believes in the fact that ‘life is a performance” and she, being a performer, has done her part well.
With good direction and witty use of the background score, the movie is insightful and makes you think beyond what you might have read about the woman through newspapers or on social media. It makes you question the authenticity of your knowledge that was generated through that of the media.
Towards the end you’ll sit with a bag full of mixed questions to which perhaps no one has a correct answer. And ones that no one ever will.
Searching for Sheela now streaming on Netflix.