Searching for Sheela (2021) Film Review

Updated: 2 days ago

Directed by: #ShakunBatra

Written by: #ShakunBatra

Starring: #MaAnandSheela

Netflix Film Review by: Emily Davison

Searching for Sheela (2021) is an Indian biographical documentary helmed by award winning director Shakun Batra. Batra is most well known for his family comedy/drama Kapoor & Sons (2016), which won him the Technical Award for Best Story and Best Screenplay at the Filmfare Awards.


His most recent film follows the controversial spokesperson, Ma Anand Sheela, of the Rajneesh movement led by Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, when she returns to India for a press/interview tour after thirty five years. The film was released on Netflix on the 22nd April and has received largely negative reviews from critics and audiences alike, facing criticism for its reportedly shallow take on the infamous public figure which fails to offer anything new to her life story.

Searching for Sheela (2021) Film Poster

The documentary immediately hits the ground running with sharp editing and quick pacing as we are given a very brief backstory of Sheela when she was sentenced to twenty years of imprisonment in 1986 and only served thirty nine months, before being released early on account of good behaviour. We are presented with her current lifestyle in Switzerland, where she moved to in 1990 to start a special help home and offer care and companionship for people with disabilities. The film is comprised of archive footage, with prior interviews of a younger Sheela being presented alongside news reports and present day coverage of the press tour as Sheela interacts with various journalists and reporters.


The most glaring issue with the short hour long documentary is that it simply lacks a clear focus and is not accessible for viewers who may be unaware with this controversial public figure, relying heavily on audiences have some prior knowledge of the events and of Sheela herself. Unfortunately, this critic does tend to agree with others on their perceptions of the documentary lacking any interesting depth or entertainment factor; the film feels rushed in its presentation with barely any background information given before we jump right in to Sheela’s return to India and the rest of the film consists of shallow coverage of the press tour.


The documentary has a general meandering pace to its storytelling after we are very hastily introduced to the main subject of interest and there is a lack of a compelling narrative or any real narrative hook to encourage consistent engagement from viewers. The filmmakers do not attempt to offer any in depth analysis or criticism of Sheela herself, instead painting a potentially biased positive and sympathetic portrait of her and her life, therefore possibly alienating viewers who wished to see a more realistic and grounded take on this political figure. The film lacks any intriguing commentary or thorough examination of Sheela, therefore resulting in a cluster of press footage with no real meaning laid out behind it.


Searching for Sheela is a rather disappointing Netflix documentary which could have offered a richer, stimulating watch if it had been visualised with a clearer focus and tapped into differing opinions of the central subject to appease both dedicated fans and critics.

#EmilyDavison


Searching for Sheela (2021) Trailer: