Searching For Sheela Review: Ma Anand Sheela lives by her words ‘life’s a performance’ in mundane documentary
Searching For Sheela
Searching For Sheela Cast: Ma Anand Sheela
Searching For Sheela Director: Shakun Batra
Searching For Sheela Stars: 2.5/5
Netflix India ‘s latest offering after the super successful Ajeeb Dastans is Searching For Sheela. Written and Directed by Shakun Batra, the documentary tracks the journey of controversial figure Ma Anand Sheela who returns to India after almost 35 years. A prominent face of the Rajneesh movement in the 80s in USA, Ma Anand Sheela was Bhagwan Rajneesh’s aide and confidant. A force to reckon with back in the day, the documentary sees Sheela set out on an India tour while promoting her book.
Ma Anand Sheela, who hails from a humble family in Gujarat’s Vadodara, devoted her life to Bhagwan Rajneesh at the tender age of 16 when her father brought her to Mumbai. The documentary does not go back in time and trace Sheela’s humble roots or dives into the why and how of it all happened, but gives an insight into Sheela’s present day life in Switzerland.
As Rajneesh’s fiery and often foul-mouthed secretary, Sheela leads a starkly different life today as she cares for the disabled and aged at her home in Basel, Switzerland. Following a largely linear pattern of storytelling, Searching For Sheela captures Sheela’s emotions rather perfectly as she returns to India.
From nostalgia to charting an unknown territory, Sheela’s charm, quick wit and comebacks are the highlight of this documentary. However, Searching for Sheela has very little new to offer. The documentary cuts in to too many seen before clips of a young Sheela and her badass comebacks. From walking off interviews to showing a TV host the middle finger, a feisty Sheela did it all. And it is also something that the public is well aware by now, especially after Wild Wild West.
There are a few moments in the documentary which make you sit up and take note. A scene where Sheela is addressing a young group of people at a swanky Delhi farmhouse and details out why she pleaded guilty and to what is one of the few scenes that stands out.
From being asked about pleading guilty to the largest bioterrorism attack in US history to her love for Osho, Sheela’s wit is on point. Sheela also stays true to her own words – ‘life’s a performance’ as she reveals only what she wants the viewer to pay attention to.
It is only in the last 15 minutes of the documentary that Searching For Sheela may pique your interest as she visits her childhood home in Vadodara, meets and greets her neighbours as well as visits the building in Mumbai where she first met Osho as a teenager. Otherwise, the 58-minute documentary involves snippets of Sheela’s interactions with the likes of Karan Johar, Barkha Dutt and a few other affluent Indians as well as journalists.
For someone with a life as colourful as Ma Anand Sheela, Shakun Batra’s documentary paints a rather dull picture.