Updated: April 23, 2021 8:44:54 am
2018’s Wild Wild Country introduced Rajnessh’s life and times to an entirely new generation, but what the documentary really guaranteed was limelight for his fiery, often foul-mouthed assistant Ma Anand Sheela. With multiple documentaries on her, Netflix’s Searching for Sheela will land this Friday, and two narrative projects in the pipeline — one will star Priyanka Chopra as the controversial aide while the other has Shakun Batra working on it — it will not be wrong to say that she has truly caught the imagination of a country.
On a whirlwind tour of India last year — she was visiting the country after almost four decades, Sheela was covered feverishly by the press. She sat down for a tete-a-tete with Karan Johar, swatted aside tough questions posed by Barkha Dutt and then told a fawning media that ‘easy is for cowards’. This visit forms the crux of the new documentary.
Ahead of Searching For Sheela, here’s what we know about Ma Anand Sheela.
On being devoted to/in love with Osho
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Sheela was just 16 when she first met Osho, then known as Rajneesh. She shares on Wild Wild Country about how her father took her to meet Rajneesh and she was instantly “devoted” when she saw him. When Bhagwan embraced Sheela, “it was in this moment, if death were to have come, I accept. My life was complete”.
She has maintained that he was also very much in love with her. “… You should see some of the photographs and see how he looked at me. And the way he said ‘Seela’…,” she reminisced.
Her role in the 1984 Rajneeshee Bioterror attack
Once Ma Sheela and Osho along with his followers set up Rajneeshpuram in Oregon, USA they started facing heat from local ranchers who lived in the region. In the face of legal challenges, Ma Anand Sheela led an attempt in 1984 to take over the county’s municipal legislature by coaching thousands of homeless people to vote Rajneeshee members into state government positions.
Sheela also orchestrated what seems like one of the largest bioterrorism attack in US history when the cult members contaminated 10 local salad bars with salmonella bacteria in an attempt to lower voter turnout among Oregonians. Due to this 751 people fell victim to the act.
For this, in 1986, Sheela pleaded guilty to attempted murder and assault for her role in the 1984 Rajneeshee bioterror attack. She was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison and paroled after 39 months for good behaviour and was fined 4,70,000 US dollars.
On stealing 55 million US dollars from the Osho foundation
There was a point in Anand Sheela’s life when she had to distance herself from Osho and his followers. In 1985, when Sheela left the cult, the Osho Foundation accused her of stealing 55 million US dollars of organisation’s funds. However, she recently set the record straight, she told India Today, “I had nothing to do with the missing money. In any case, the new financial advisor of the Rajneesh commune has now retracted these accusations and has stated that no money was missing. I have stolen nothing and if the 55 million US dollars was indeed missing, it must have been blown on the fleet of Rolls Royces, planes, watches and expensive jewellery bought for the Bhagwan.”
On leaving Osho after loving him
Sheela has been quite vocal about her love and devotion for Osho throughout Wild Wild West’s six episodes. In fact she can be heard saying that Osho loved her too, in the trailer of Searching for Sheela.
Talking about how she was in love and why she actually left Osho, she says, “It was bound to happen, wasn’t it? It’s like needing a doctor when you are sick. When people are not sick, where is the need for a doctor? I had had enough of him. I was in love with him all these years but things just crystallised over that time. There were no specific instances which escalated matters but it kept building up till I reached a stage where I decided to go on my own. He is a desperate man. I took care of all his needs so that he had no worries, no complaints and could look good. And I was under incredible pressure running that huge outfit. Our monthly budget alone was two-and-a-half million dollars and I ran it in great style.”
Produced by Dharmatic Entertainment, Searching for Sheela is all set to release on Netflix on April 22, 2021. While Wild Wild Country gave us a peek into Sheela as Osho’s most controversial assistant, Searching for Sheela is expected to take watchers deeper into her world through her narrative.
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