The True Story Behind Khufiya: Are KM and Ravi Mohan Based on Real RAW Agents?

Netflix’s ‘Khufiya’ stands out for its layered portrayal of a spy’s life. The spy film, helmed by Vishal Bhardwaj, follows Krishna Mehra (aka KM), an operative at the R&AW, the foreign intelligence agency of India. Mehra is tasked with tracking down a mole who is selling India’s defense secrets to foreign agencies, while she also struggles with her personal life. Featuring impressive performances by Tabu, Ali Fazal, Wamiqa Gabbi, Ashish Vidyarthi, and Azmeri Haque Badhon, the movie keeps the audience captivated with its gripping narrative. The realistic demonstration of events further adds to its impact and makes one wonder if the thriller film is rooted in reality. If you too are curious about the same, we have got you covered!

Is Khufiya a True Story?

‘Khufiya’ is partially based on a true story. The film is an adaptation of Amar Bhushan’s 2012 book titled ‘Escape to Nowhere.’ While the author claims that the book is a work of fiction, the makers of the film have stated that the movie is indeed inspired by real events. Ravi Mohan (Ali Fazal), the R&AW agent who betrays the organization, is inspired by Rabinder Singh, the former Joint Secretary of R&AW who defected to the US in 2004. However, the makers have taken certain creative liberties to make the story more appealing.

Singh served as a Major in the Indian Army before joining R&AW. During his time at the intelligence agency, he reportedly got lured by a female case officer of the CIA. The incident is said to have taken place in the early 1990s either at the R&AW station in Damascus or Hague. After falling into the honey trap, Singh was found photocopying secret documents in his office, as seen in the film. His suspicious activities alarmed the counter-intelligence officials, who placed him under surveillance and tapped his phone conversations.

However, Singh suddenly disappeared in May 2004 and is said to have defected to the US via Nepal. A former R&AW officer claimed that Singh and his wife, Parminder Kaur, went from Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, to the US via an Austrian Air flight on May 7, 2004. The two were issued US passports a month earlier, on April 7, 2004, under the aliases of Rajpal Prasad Sharma and Deepa Kumar Sharma. At the time, the couple was helped by CIA operative David M. Vacala. While the film largely focuses on Ravi’s troubled relationship with his wife due to his betrayal of the country, such was not the case with Singh.

In the film, Ravi moves to South Dakota. In real life, Singh was traced to New Jersey in 2007, as stated by R&AW in a court affidavit. As per Indian government sources, the fugitive lived as a refugee in the US after his monetary support was stopped by the CIA. His application for asylum and a job was also blocked by US intelligence. Singh eventually died in a road accident in Maryland in 2016.

In the book, the investigation is carried out by Jeev, a character based on Amar Bhushan himself, who headed R&AW’s Counter-Intelligence & Security Division (CI&S) when Singh escaped to the US. And while we do see Jeev in the film, played by Ashish Vidyarthi, the protagonist is changed to Krishna Mehra (Tabu), who becomes the central part of the investigation. So, Bhushan’s personality is split into two different characters in the film: Jeev, who heads the CI&S, and Mehra, his subordinate who carries out the investigation. The arc of Mehra chasing after Ravi in the US with the help of his wife is also fictional, and the film has a completely different ending from the book.

Speaking about the change from the book, Bhardwaj revealed that he initially wrote the main officer as a male character only and wanted late actor Irrfan Khan to essay the role. But when Khan unfortunately died of cancer in 2020, the filmmaker decided to rewrite the protagonist as a female. He also stated that he wanted to give a personal story to Mehra to make the audience connect with the character emotionally. That is why her relationship with her son, and with Heena, forms an integral storyline in the film, which was not there in the book.

“We have made a few changes to the story. For example in the book, the main officer is male but we have Tabu playing the part of RAW officer Krishna Mehra. I also wanted to create a personal story and not just a cat-and-mouse chase of how you catch a mole or how you bring back a defector. We need a personal story like Krishna’s because, when we watch a story, we are affected by emotions and a journey happens inside us. When we connect with the emotion of the character we are watching, then our own emotional journey begins. This personal story arc for Tabu’s Krishna was created by myself and my co-writer Rohan Narula,” Bhardwaj told Scroll. Hence, ‘Khufiya’ is partially based on real-life events and is an adaptation of ‘Escape to Nowhere’ with some deviations from the book.

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