Searching For Sheela does not credit any director. It credits Karan Johar, Shakun Batra and Apoorva Mehta, as producers and executive producers, three of whom are heavily associated with Dharma Productions known for films such as Student of the Year, Kuch Kuch Hota Hain, Dostana, Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham. Searching For Sheela was supposed to be an unbiased documentary, about the life of Ma Anand Sheela. However, barring a few news clip footages, Searching For Sheela becomes quite focused on Sheela's extravagant, wine-drinking life, with a short glimpse of her efforts as a social worker in Switzerland, that too comes with a picturesque of the mountains in the country.
Here is a common trait about Karan Johar. Wherever he steps in, glamour follows. But this is a documentary, and the producers knew how to keep it low key. But call it the charming nature of Sheela or the polished South Delhi women who make an appearance, Searching For Sheela ends up becoming a visual glamorous, well-captured video blog more than a documentary.
Who is Ma Anand Sheela?
Ma Anand Sheela has been one of the controversial figures of India. In 1986 she was pleaded guilty to attempted murder and assault for her role in the 1984 Rajneeshee bioterror attack. An allegation she perpetually denied throughout the documentary. However, when you notice carefully, what remains in our mind about Sheela is her magnetic personality, (she shuns Barkha Dutt when she expects her to behave in a manner Dutt wants her to) her excellent taste in fashion, and her ability to be photogenic even in her grey hair stage. Now we obviously know that Karan Johar's make up team had something to do with her wardrobe selection and looks.
But this is probably how Sheela wants us to know her. Not as a alleged terrorist, but as a patient, enigmatic woman, with an excellent taste in fashion, food and most importantly, she is not legally guilty.
What Karan Johar's Ma Anand Sheela looks like
Ma Anand Sheela has a natural confidence in herself despite strong accusations against her. She knows how to not look at that camera and be a natural celebrity. She puts on contour before going out knowing that cameras would follow her everywhere and she will be meeting people who will ask for selfies.
She slightly gets impatient when she is questioned about her role in the Rajneeshee bioterror, but calmly, firmly explains her point of view. You wouldn't exactly have the courage to hurl abuses at her and walk away. Sheela was sentenced to 20 years of imprisonment but got out after 39 months on account of good behaviour.
At present, she lives in Switzerland and runs a special home for the mentally and physically challenged population of the country. Now, how many former prisoners do that? Searching For Sheela had the potential to be more than watching Sheela in the glamourous spaces of Mumbai, Delhi, Gurgaon. She also visits a middle-class neighbourhood in Vadodara.
It hardly dives deep into Rajneeshee but focuses more on how South Delhi women perceive this elderly woman. You can easily spot a South Delhi woman in reel crowds. They have evenly decorated makeup which makes their skin appear flawless in front of the camera. They have straightened hair that is smoothened regularly from the salon. They click selfies with Sheela and engage in conversations with her on public platforms.
Searching For Sheela after one point of time is more about Sheela's happiness in the fact that she can now return to India after 35 years. She is aware that her return will bring in controversial questions. That annoys her but she has learnt to live with that with some dignity.