Searching for Sheela review – an empty, lopsided documentary film cult of personality

April 22, 2021
Jonathon Wilson 0
Film Reviews, Netflix
1

Summary

Empty and fawning, Searching for Sheela offers as much insight into Ma Anand Sheela as might be gleaned by staring at a wall for its entire runtime.

1

Summary

Empty and fawning, Searching for Sheela offers as much insight into Ma Anand Sheela as might be gleaned by staring at a wall for its entire runtime.

This review of Searching for Sheela is spoiler-free.


Searching For Sheela offers about as much insight into Ma Anand Sheela as one might glean from staring at a wall for an hour. That’s the runtime of this lopsided documentary feature, produced by Karan Johar’s Dharmatic Entertainment and co-produced by Shakun Batra. A quasi-sequel of sorts to Wild Wild Country, Searching For Sheela rather distances itself from Bhagwan Rajneesh, or Osho, and finds Ma Anand Sheela returning to India after three decades spent in Swiss exile. Her charges for attempted murder, wiretapping, and assault, to which she pled guilty, saw her serve a laughable 39 months of a 20-year sentence for “good behaviour”, which makes one wonder how good behaviour could possibly be.

Evidently, good enough to be received with open arms in India, as she’s fawned over like a beloved celebrity as the film is sure to emphasise her charitable endeavours and style choices. It’s a sickening bit of large-scale rebranding, really, not much different from a PR campaign. Had Sheela simply said something uncouth at a press junket, the propaganda might be passable. But given her longstanding history of manipulation at best and outright criminal activity at worst, any attempts at sympathy for her leave a sour taste.

In a vague attempt at balance, Searching for Sheela wheels out archival footage, as all documentaries must, and the woman depicted in them is starkly different from this new, caregiver version, almost as if a deliberate makeover has occurred in the meantime. At one point Sheela expresses regret at the same questions being asked of her, but if no answers are forthcoming, then there’s really no wonder. The lack of a credited director gives the film a shady, improper quality, which I suppose is only fitting when you think about it.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.