“I have been accused of a laundry list of heinous crimes. Of course, all ‘attempted’. Normally I succeed in what I do, that is the big joke!”
And here we begin the awestriking true tale of the Sannyasin Cult which invaded the small Oregon town of Antelope in order to create a commune purported to be built on the values of open sexuality, capitalism and agnostic spirituality during the 1980s.
At quick glance, you are lead to believe that the primary evil antagonist of this story is mysterious incorporeal mastermind Bhagwan Shree Ragneesh- later to be referred to as Osho- who creates and commercialises a community of international lost souls, hippy travellers and vagabonds in India during the 1970s.
Setting himself up as a deity, Osho relies on the naivity of his followers and the ruthlessness of his self appointed General Secretary Ma Anand Sheela to create a mini-town in the rapidly developing city of Pune. As word spreads on his supposed ability to provide his disciples with inner peace and enlightenment, he attracts the unwanted attention of Indian politicians, civil authorities and religious leaders who pursue him for associated illegal transgressions.
Powered by a zest for evading the law, he sets about a plan to transplant and legitimise his operation in the States and uses his vastly accumulated wealth to buy a major plot of land out of sight of any lawmakers in the Pacific North West. Needless to say, the rural backwater and ultra conservative municipality he selects does not take kindly to Osho and his cabal’s ambitions culminating with a localised cold war which soon defrosts into full on battle for ‘control’.
With narration of the story provided by both sides of the battle, the producers don’t have to do anything to manipulate your general sympathy, distaste or hatred for protagonists on either end of the argument. The full cast of ‘characters’ revel in making seriously off colour comments about race, sexual orientation and ethnicity as ordinary citizens get caught in the crossfire between extreme dogma.
It’s down to you to decide whether Bhagwan and Sheela are the second coming, mystic’s and great gurus or dangerous economic terrorists and master criminals. Similarly, are the townsfolk of Antelope patriots, geographical guardians and peace loving people who are protecting the sanctity of “American life?” Or are they backwards bigots, religious zealots and simple minded? And what level of accountability should be apportioned to the mentally vulnerable minions who subscribe and obey the edicts of their leaders?
There are so many layers to this story; it will have you glued to the TV, amazed with the honesty (or scarcity of) and lack of contrition circulated amongst the key influencers. Documentary making at its very best.
Viewed: February 2021