EXCLUSIVE: Amazon Studios has set up Sheela, an intriguing drama that Barry Levinson will direct with Priyanka Chopra starring as Ma Anand Sheela, a guru who perpetrated what is called the largest bio-terrorist attack executed on U.S. soil.
She was the personal secretary of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh from 1981 through 1985, and supervised his move to relocate his thousands of followers — known as the Rajneesh — to the small town of Wasco County, Oregon. Sheela was appointed president but unbeknownst to both of them, this move would be met by resistance from the local community that led to a full blown war within the county. As a way to claim governing control of the land, Sheela devised a plan to fix the election by recruiting hundreds of homeless people to register to vote in their favor. Ultimately, she was convicted of conspiring to poison local restaurants with salmonella to prevent the opposing locals from voting. This became known as the 1984 Rajneesh bioterror attack. Shortly after, Sheela fled to Europe as a fugitive accused of arson, wiretapping, attempted murder, and mass poisonings. She would plead guilty to attempted murder and assault for her role and was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison and paroled after 39 months.
Amazon Studios would not comment, but I hear that the project has been set there and that Permut Presentations’ David Permut will produce with Levinson and his Baltimore Pictures along with Jason Sosnoff, and Chopra through her Purple Pebble America banner.
Story made for the compelling Netflix docu Wild Wild Country.
Script will be written by Nick Yarborough, who is writing the Training Day prequel for Warner Bros.
Levinson has just completed the Holocaust boxing drama Harry Haft, with Ben Foster playing the title role. The Oscar-winning Rain Man director has thrived in fact-based fare of late, including the Paterno, The Wizard of Lies and You Don’t Know Jack, which received a combined 21 Emmy noms for HBO.
Permut is producing The Legend of Cocaine Island for Netflix, with Will Ferrell starring.
Chopra is repped by UTA, Levinson by WME and attorney Barry Hirsch, Permut by attorney John Tishbi at Pearlman & Tishbi and Yarborough by Epicenter.
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