Wild Wild Country is a real potboiler that has enough sex & drugs, romance, murder plot and mysticism all combined in one – making it a story that can put even bestselling paperbacks to shame.
India, the land of mystics and gurus, is certainly no stranger to the idea of ‘god men’. But the kind of cult that Osho left behind is commendable even by India’s own historical and spiritual standards.
I came to know of Osho first time when I was visiting Pune with school friends. Walking past the ashram in Koregaon park, I heard controversial stories about the interesting activities people claimed were happening behind the guarded walls of the ashram.
Ideas of sexual freedom and unapologetic enjoyment of sensory pleasures were common in pre-Christian pagan societies. But this was the first time a religious cult was attempting to bring these ideas into mainstream society and actively endorsing them – something that would go against the tenets of most organized modern religions in the world.
To separate fact from fiction, I tried learning more about Osho by reading and watching material available on the internet. But as I expected, in most cases I found opinions to be polarized depending on which side of the argument you support.
In this context, Wild Wild Country – a documentary series from Netflix, does a fantastic job of presenting the facts ‘as is’ and letting the viewers come to their own conclusions.
The documentary is not about Osho himself – neither is it about his spiritual teachings or philosophy. The series focuses on a limited time frame, starting in 1981 when Rajneesh left India to set up a utopia in a sprawling 65,000-acre ranch next to the small retirement village of Antelope in Oregon, USA.
The goal was to establish a self-sufficient community of more than 50,000 “sannyasins” (Osho followers) that appeared to offer a lifestyle filled with ‘free love’, music and booze. These activities were well funded by Guru’s rich followers, enough for him to even accrue a fleet of Rolls-Royce, designer watches and build his own airstrip.
Though unconventional in approach compared to regular spiritual practice, the commune initially seemed harmless and a by-product of the counter culture movement that was sweeping across America at the time. This was until their neighbours – a group of 50 or so older, conservative, nativist, residents of Antelope started noticing the ‘red people’ (referring to the colors in which the sannayasins dressed).
These residents felt that the commune’s ideas and activities were incompatible to the local community’s way of life as they saw it. What followed was something close to a civil war between the two groups – bioterrorism, assassination plots, immigration fraud – with an underlying theme of sex, drugs, betrayal, deceit and xenophobia.
The six-part series is directed by Chapman and Maclain brothers and the story is narrated using original footage, media reports and a series of extraordinary interviews with former commune members, residents of Antelope and the investigating officers.
As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that the real star of the plot was not Osho himself, but his secretary Ma Anand Sheela. A fascinating and infuriating character, her unapologetic and often profanity-laden manner of straight talk leaves viewers in knots, oscillating between loving and hating her. She is supported by her equally passionate fellow commune members who are articulate and persuasive in presenting their sides of the story.
In the other corner we have the townsfolk of Antelope, talking enthusiastically about their goal to ‘keep Oregon Oregon’, which, to me, sounded like ‘keep it white and Christian’. Narrating even after nearly 30 years, their resentment with ‘orange-clad crazies’ as they called them is palpable, vivid with a fear of becoming a minority ‘in our own country’.
In a totally non-partisan way, the series effectively captures the paranoia and anger on both sides.
Sure enough, there is enough nudity and crime plots aplenty to keep thrill seekers on the edge – but at its heart, it feels like a clash between old and new cultures and about the fear that new ideas or new people often create in the hearts of those that are set in their ways. It also gives us a brief glimpse into the time’s American attitudes to immigration, race, sex and the influence of religion over the state and its politicians.
To summarise, I will highly recommend watching this series because:
- The story is full of rich details, wonderful characters, and an extraordinary atmosphere, with enough twists and turns, almost to the point of being fictional.
- The amount of real life footage gathered is unbelievable. Had there not been so much real footage, it would have been hard to believe this story given the scale and number of people involved.
Overall, Netflix has done a brilliant job of presenting this remarkable and amazing story in the most unbiased manner.
You are left wondering: who are the real bad guys here? Who are the victims here? Who are the real cult members, blindly clinging to tradition?