Searching For Sheela: A Chance for Sheela to Present Her Side?

Is Netflix Docu film, ‘Searching For Sheela’ voicing Sheela’s side of the story?

Netflix’s hour-long documentary, Searching for Sheela is a docu-film on the much-known woman, Sheela Patel, commonly known as Ma Anand Sheela. Sheela was charged for the attempt to Murder, Illegal wire-tapping Arson Immigration fraud and role in the 1984 Rajneeshee bioterror attack. Sheela was a key figure in the life of Osho Rajneesh’s establishment of the so-called Utopian City in Rajneeshpuram from 1981 to 1985. This docu-film, produced by Karan Johar’s Dharmatic Productions and executively produced by Shakun Batra, is a directorless documentary attempting to give a chance to Sheela to present her side of the story.

The ducu Searching from Sheela starts just like any other classic documentary, with the scandalous media comments about the involvement of Sheela with Osho, clips of her arrest, and Osho speaking of her betrayal. And then, it goes to the present of Sheela, where she is running a special help home for disabled people in Switzerland. And from there, a phone call confirming Sheela’s visit to India takes us back to Sheela’s visit in India in 2019. It looks all good, all well till here but posts this, more than a quarter of the film is just clips of pre-existing interviews of Sheela jotted together to form a film.

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How is Sheela shown in the film?

Sheela is shown as a woman in grey, she can be evil and good, both. Sheela, in the film, is shown as the epitome of the strong, independent woman. A woman who is smart, witty, and eloquent. A woman, who is calm, compassionate, and has the grit to face the same question she is being asked, about the changes that were been imposed on her, and that she gracefully denies that she didn’t commit. She enters into difficult questions about her relationship with Osho, whom she addresses as Bhagwan. She is asked the questions of what life means to her, and who is Sheela?

She speaks about how people have made a perception of her, and don’t want to take themselves out of that perception and listen to what Sheela really wants to say. Sheela here meets people and friends. She meets her fellow journalist, including Raghu Rai and Bina Ramani. And the same question comes to her, in various sugarcoated forms.

While the film talks a lot about what no one wants to hear what Sheela wants to say, who Sheela is, it is not giving much voice to the answer to who Sheela actually is. We know Sheela was a Journalist but we hardly get to know about her as a journalist. We know Sheela wants to say the unsaid about herself, but we find her with questions of what is she seeking, ‘Redemption?’.

An overwhelming moment in the film comes when Sheela is talking to a family member on a video call, and there, telling her about how people have been talking about her on social media. How whatever she is saying is being clipped, edited, and manipulated to speak of something she is not. People are making memes of her when she is not even sure what memes are, and what she can do of them.

After watching the film, we wonder have we got to know who Sheela is actually? Is the film making us closer to Sheela? Has it scratched properly, the case of searching for Sheela? We wonder! But we truly know that the film leaves us to the thought that who Sheela is and with the curiosity who what exactly is her side of the story.

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Ishika Aggarwal

Can write, shoot, listen, talk and procrastinate. A feminist at heart, Ishika is an avid writer and multimedia person who loves talking about women, realism, and society. When not working she is either seen watching films or making one.
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