QUICK REVIEW: Searching for Sheela, Netflix


By Neeraj Nanda

MELBOURNE, April 24, 2021: Sheela Birnstiel, earlier named Ma Anand Sheela, iconic cult leader Rajneesh’s Personal Secretary who flees Rajneeshpuram, to Switzerland to set up two care homes including “Matrusadan’, a home for caring for the disabled, visits India after 35 years in 2019. The 58 minutes documentary by two companies including Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions and starts off with she landing in Delhi and driving straight to a designer boutique for a new dress. The stage is set for her visit to different cities including her hometown Vadodara.

Her shady past includes her 20 years of conviction by a US court for attempted murder, assault, and role in the Rajneeshpuram bio-terror attack. She later is paroled after 39 months for good behavior. In fact, she had pleaded guilty to some charges against her. The chain of events that started off with her being a disciple of Acharya Rajneesh can be seen in Duplas Brothers ‘Wild Wild Country’, streamed earlier in 2018 on Netflix.

Lots of old footage of interviews and some clips from ‘Wild Wild Country’ with her India visit crisscross the loose narrative in the documentary. A sugar-coated sophisticated former criminal with designer clothes and cinema-type make-up builds up the 71-year-old lady’s hype as a celebrity. She is the darling of India’s English-speaking elite spread out in exclusive enclaves in different cities.


I did no wrong, she says. Was her being in love with Acharya Rajneesh Platonic, Barkha Dutt asks her. I was in love with him, she says. In one clip Acharya Rajneesh says, ” How can I be in love with a prostitute.”

Nothing new emerges in the documentary. Her visit to her home in Vadodara is nostalgic. She is recognized and enjoys a home swing. But little is explained or revealed why she chose Rajneesh. Or, was it just that things were happening. In fact, She says, “I wish I can move on…”

With parents & a young Sheela

She seems to be excited at the attention she gets in the glitter and wealth of Gurugram and Chhatarpur. “I feel like a dulha,” she says.

The documentary ends with she back in Switzerland. She deals with difficult patients. Is she balancing her past life? She is confident and looks relaxed. Does not appear to be a spiritualist. She is unapologetic. She is in her own world.

The Executive Producer is Shakun Batra. The director’s name is missing. In all, the story still remains sketchy.

I give it one and a half out of five stars.

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