Before Sheela Ambalal Patel (or Sheela Silverman, or Ma Anand Sheela, or Sheela Birnstiel) announced that Alia Bhatt was her choice of actor to play her on the big screen, and long after she sent a legal notice to Priyanka Chopra when she heard that Chopra was developing a script based on her life, the former Rajneesh aide was meeting journalists in India.
Sheela is the subject of a Netflix documentary produced by Shakun Batra. Searching For Sheela will include a conversation between Sheela and Karan Johar, interviews, and candid moments of her trip through India. The documentary will be streamed on Netflix on April 22.
Sheela, who is now 71, was the personal secretary and spokesperson of the godman Rajneesh in the 1980s. She ran his commune, Rajneeshpuram, in the American state of Oregon, and was involved in a series of controversies and crimes. In 1984, Sheela was sentenced to 20 years for attempted murder and assault, but she got paroled after 39 months. Her story has been detailed in the immensely successful Netflix documentary series Wild Wild Country. Sheela now lives in Switzerland, where she runs two care homes for seniors and people with degenerative illnesses.
“Spirituality is not for me,” Sheela told Scroll.in. “I was Bhagwan’s lover and manager of the entire Rajneesh movement. I had a tough job in hand, and that is forgotten. To build an entire city [in Oregon] is not a joke.”
Shakun Batra, who was also present at the interview, said the documentary takes off from where Wild Wild Country ended. “Anand Sheela is so many things – she is a pop icon, an Osho spokesperson, a criminal. but nobody really knows the real her,” Batra said. “With this documentary, we follow her return to India and unreel the layers to reveal who the real Anand Sheela is.”
Sheela was born in Vadodara and moved to America when she was 18. “I am here today and I could withstand all that I went through in my life is because my parents taught me to be tenacious and focussed,” she said.
She is sharp and staccato in her responses to questions about her life. “This is the right time for me to be here,” Sheela declared. “There is no logical explanation to it, really. I wished this film to happen so people know the real me. I think it is time.” She also wishes to work in India. “I feel that my people, my relatives and people I knew are ready to accept me now,” she said. “This is a different India I have come to.”