Thursday, 5 April 2018

Thoughts & Review: Wild Wild Country on Netflix

Like everyone else on the Netflix-and-chill planet, we also watched the fantastic, insightful, informative and thought-provoking documentary Wild Wild Country. 

I had been hearing so much buzz about this documentary for a few days now and getting very antsy and wanted to watch it right away! I LOVE Cults..and I don't even care how strange that sounds. I LOVE them. There is something so gnarly and strange and so fascinating about cults and how they function. One charismatic leader. Several followers willing to give up everything and do the strangest things for their leader. How do they fall for it? What makes a seemingly sane person give up their former life and follow a Guru or leader? Having had studied cults a little bit in grad school I am always interested to learn more about these curious little things. So of course I watched the entire documentary in one night. Yup! I binged the hell out of it and I have some thoughts...


1. First up, the sheer fact that all of the events depicted in the documentary went down and the scale of these events in itself boggles the mind! How were things allowed to get this far?! How were these events more widely known?! I had no idea that such things had even happened in Oregon in the mid 80s! It seems that even people in the US were not aware of these events! Why was this not more widely reported outside of Oregon?!

2. Ma Anand Sheela! OMG! That woman did all kinds of awful things but, man, she was one bad ass boss lady! Her attitude, confidence, chutzpah and just general bad ass-ery are worth of grudging admiration, at the very least. She is clearly a sociopath and a criminal, but she is a bad ass!

3. So, this cult comes out of nowhere to the middle of nowhere in Oregon, buys around 60,000 acres of ranch land, starts building a goddamn city and nobody says anything or does anything until the Rajneeshpuram compound is almost fully built! How can this happen in America?! It is just way too bizarre!

4. I can't get over people who are shocked that Osho turned out to be a criminal. I mean come on! Are people really still falling for his con? Some folks read a few of his 'books' and fall for his hedonistic philosophy and think that this is a man that has it all figured out. I always grew up listening to my folks and family talk of Osho and his shenanigans and how he was nothing but a charlatan, so thankfully I've never felt inclined to pick up his books and think kindly of him. Thank God!

5. My heart broke for the little town of Antelope. A town with only 40 residents and how overwhelmed they seemed with the Rajneehees. There was of course a certain amount of xenophobia on their part and some amount of prejudice and possible intolerance. But I do think that this quiet, retirement community was in over their head with this herd of people coming in taking over their little town.

6. I did spend a considerable time looking out for Vinod Khanna. Sadly, I didn't spot him. Though he was living on the ranch and was very close to Rajneesh himself.

7. I also felt that the regular Rajneeshees did look blissed and happy and in the end when the commune was being dismantled and everyone was leaving and saying goodbye, I felt sad. And that surprised me. I didn't think I'd feel bad for them but for these people this was home. For the last 4 years of their life, this was home and this community was family. Some of them had done back-breaking work to make this city out of nothing, so obviously they'd be heartbroken to leave everything behind.

8. Rajneesh was a psychopath, megalomaniac and a total narcissist. Ma Anand Sheela is a sociopath with no empathy and a cold, hard focus on achieving her goals and nothing else. Together they were the perfect storm. Rajneesh dreamt up this vision of a town where he was the King and a law unto himself and his loyal lapdog lieutenant- Sheela- went about making his vision come to life. They're both charlatans and criminals and, in my opinion, got away with very little punishment! Wild Wild Country does a good job of subtly showing Sheela's sociopathic side. Even now, she has no remorse for what she did! Disgusting! I couldn't help but get some serious Voldemort and Bellatrix vibes from these two! :)

9. For the first time in our lives, we were rooting for the white people against two Indians! We were fully Team Antelope! Those people lived through hell and deserved to see the last of the Rajneeshees!

10. It is always interesting to see the tipping point of when a commune becomes a cult. Mind you, the Rajneeshees were a cult-ish to start with- they all wore red, they all followed a structured routine, they had this one charismatic leader, who they blindly believed in. But, I think when Rajneeshpuram was first built, they did mean for it to be a commune- self-sufficient, where everyone worked in exchange for a roof over their heads, food and spiritual succour from their leader. As the opposition to them and their way of life became stronger, they became more of a cult because it was then that their leaders started to control them, especially, the 'street people' by using drugs or other means.

11. One of the worst things that Sheela did in her quest to win two seats on the Wasco County Council was to lure in homeless people from all across the US and get them to move to Rajneeshpuram, register to vote in the upcoming Council elections and, then, actually vote in favour of the Rajneeshees! They used the 6,000+ homeless people for their own ends and when that didn't pan out according to plan, they started drugging them on a daily basis to keep them sedated and "under control".


1. The documentary will appeal to everyone, irrespective of whether you find cults fascinating or revolting or are totally indifferent to them. Wild Wild Country is about more than a cult. It is actually a fascinating psychological study on power and power structures. Osho Rajneesh was a megalomaniac who wanted to be God. He, quite literally, got his followers (and everyone) to refer to him as Bhagwan! If that is not a blaring neon sign for God Complex, I don't know what is! Osho held all the power within that community and then, due to some mysterious reason, he took a vow of silence, stepped back from the community and passed on that power to Anand Sheela. So, this documentary is about the play between power and money and the extent to which people are willing to go to get their way- all in the name of impressing their "God".

2. The documentary has a great build-up. Episode 1 is all about the cult of Rajneesh. We get to see glimpses of his devotees in Pune, parts of his sermons and we also get to meet Sheela for the first time. The narrative starts to build up with Rajneesh disappearing from Pune overnight and Sheela setting off to find suitable land for a bigger commune in America. I love how the story unfolded from there and just the sheer scale of the things that Sheela did and the investigation done by the Oregon Attorney General's office as well as the FBI.

3. We meet and get to know several people close to Rajneesh and Sheela- Shanti Bhadra/ Jane Stork, who was a part of Sheela's inner circle, Sunny- who was a little removed from the inner circle but was close enough to observe the going ons, Swami Niren- Rajneesh's lawyer and a devotee even today, Krishna Deva- the first Mayor of Rajneeshpuram, who would later cut a deal with the FBI and Jayananda- who was similar to Sunny in terms of his closeness to the power centre. At the end of the series, we do come to know what Sheela, Niren and Sunny are doing with their lives today but not so much the others.

4. I also liked seeing the Antelope citizens' perspective on the setting up of Rajneeshpuram and what it felt like when the Rajneeshee's bought large chunks of property in Antelope itself and even managed to change the town's name to Rajneesh. Loved to see how clear-headed these Antelope citizens were about the cult and what they could become if they were left unchecked. However, and here's what I have read that a lot of people struggle with, it was the fear and xenophobia of the Antelope citizens that started all this trouble with the Rajneeshee's in the first place! So, in some ways, the whole series of events was an action-reaction sort of a scenario that escalated way too fast and way too much because we had determined white Christians on one side and an equally determined megalomaniac, narcissistic sociopath on the other.

5. I do like that the documentary remained fairly balanced and didn't vilify either side and let you, the viewer, decide which side you rooted for.

Rating: 4.5/5

This documentary is amazing! I honestly cannot recommend it enough.


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