‘Khufiya’ True Story, Explained: Is Ravi Mohan Based On Real-Life Spy Rabinder Singh?


Often, as artists, we take inspiration from people and the world around us, but it doesn’t always have to be pure imitation. We do add dramatic elements to the things we grasp from our daily lives, and this might be the perfect way to explain Khufiya‘s relationship with the true story and the real events that took place. The character of Ravi Mohan (played by Ali Fazal) in Netflix’s Khufiya draws a lot of similarities to real-life intelligence officer Rabinder Singh, who took his last breath in 2016.

Vishal Bhardwaj’s film, which has been adapted from a book written by Amar Bhushan, titled “Escape to Nowhere,” is loosely inspired by a true story (as per the book’s cover page). And from what we know about Amar Bhushan, he has spent a considerable amount of time with the intelligence agencies in India, because of which he might have come across a lot of interesting stories during his tenure. He was in office when the curious case of Rabinder Singh arose, and one can connect the dots if one wants to. It is implied that the characters of Jeevan and Krishna Mehra are based on the real-life Amar Bhushan, who, as per the book and the film, found out about the mole in the intelligence agency. The same could have happened in real life too, but there is no direct evidence suggesting the same. Similarly, the character of Ravi Mohan is not a pure adaptation of his real-life counterpart yet has a similar backstory. As we have finished watching the film, we will try to draw similarities and differences between the character of Ravi Mohan and his real-life inspiration, Rabinder Singh.

Spoiler Alert

Shaking Hands With The CIA

In Khufiya, we are not made aware of Ravi Mohan’s background. He did tell his son stories of his heroic adventures in the neighboring countries, but those tales were shunned by Krishna Mehra (Tabu) at the end of the film. Speaking of Rabinder Singh, the man had served in the Indian National Army and rose up the ranks, after which he volunteered to become a part of India’s prestigious spy agency, R&AW. However, in both cases, we are not certain why these men chose to betray their country and deliver secret intel to the American spy agency, the CIA.

According to certain reports, Rabinder was honey-trapped by a female CIA officer on foreign soil. But in Ravi Mohan’s case, his drift to the CIA is quite blurry. At some point, he says that his mother probed him to become a double agent and do the spy work. Later, Ravi says that he was helping America get rid of the Taliban, which would indirectly be beneficial for India by curbing terrorism. He tried to educate his superiors about the same, but none of them bought his ideology, and because of this, Ravi Mohan felt neglected and tried to help his country through unlawful means. But if he really wanted to help the country, then why did he take money from the Americans? Why did he make these transactions and enjoy the luxury he obtained from them? He didn’t seem to be a patriot at all, and he was a selfish man, to say the least.

The Photocopying Machine

The most striking similarity in both cases was the photocopy machine. Like Ravi Mohan, even Rabinder Singh used to photocopy top-secret documents in the office and later deliver them to his CIA handler through a complicated route, which ensured that he’d never be caught. In the film, we had already seen how Ravi used to hide the top-secret papers in a black bag and leave them in his car, where another person would pick them up and deliver them to the CIA woman, (probably Rachael McClane), who worked in the American Embassy in Delhi.

I believe that America didn’t really have a direct use for this intelligence but was selling or sharing it with India’s neighboring countries and ISIS to gain their trust so that they could strengthen their position in the Middle East against their worst nemesis, Russia. Also, as the American woman said, they had made a deal with Islamabad, who would give them Osama bin Laden in exchange for India’s secret intelligence. So, did she just say that they are willing to jeopardize a country’s national security and its agents just because they want to capture a terrorist that they created? But let’s not go there, as that would be an endless discussion.

Bugging the House

In January 2004, the Indian counter-espionage unit (C.E.U.) found out that there was a mole in their department, as it was also seen in Khufiya. From here on, the agency conducted a thorough inspection, and all the evidence pointed towards one man, Rabinder Singh. Soon after, his office was bugged along with his Defense Colony residence, where he used to live with his wife. A point to note here: Rabinder’s children were already living in the USA during this timeline, unlike Ravi Mohan, whose son and mother stayed with him under the same roof. The son, Kunal, was an important part of the film’s narrative as he gave the mother, Charu, the reason to chase her husband to America and safely bring her son back to the country.

As per the official reports, someone had tipped Rabinder about the four-month-long surveillance, after which he fled to Nepal, from where he boarded a flight and reached America in May 2004. However, in the film, Ravi finds a spy camera in his garage that makes him suspicious. Later, he informs the CIA woman, who sends a car to pick up Ravi and his family. What happened next isn’t revealed in the film, but Ravi reaches America. In real life, Rabinder’s wife, Parminder “Pammi” Singh, went along with him, which isn’t the case in the film.

A striking similarity that we need to mention here is that Rabinder’s handler in the CIA was named David M. Vacala, while in Khufiya, Ravi is assisted by a man named David White in America who is in charge of his citizenship and permanent visa.

Not a Trusted Ally

Ravi Mohan and Rabinder Singh had put their blind trust in the CIA, but little did they know that in the world of spies, no one can be trusted. After reaching America, Rabinder lived a secluded life in a CIA safehouse and waited for his American citizenship, which never actually happened. Therefore, he had to live the rest of his life as a refugee on foreign soil. A similar thing happened with Ravi Mohan, who stayed in South Dakota for the time being and waited for citizenship, but he never received it. David White was evidently delaying the process and came up with a new excuse every time Ravi would ask about it. Both of these men were exploited and betrayed by the spy agency, after which they felt remorseful for betraying their own country.

The Death of Rabinder Singh

Later, the CIA stopped paying Rabinder Singh for his services, because of which his entire life went downhill. He had no means to earn an income in a foreign country, as he was just a refugee and wasn’t identified by the law. He couldn’t come back to his country either, as he would be executed for treason. Both Rabinder and Ravi were left stranded at a crossroads with nowhere left to escape. According to the source released by the Indian government, Rabinder died in a tragic road accident in 2016. We are not sure if it actually happened or not, or if it was another trick played by the CIA to make the man disappear so that the Indian government would stop looking for him? But if he did die, then we hope he found the peace he had been looking for, as the burden of betraying his country might have eaten him from the inside. As for Ravi Mohan, he got the chance to redeem himself and prove himself a hero, after which he was brought back to India, and we might see him again if there is any sequel to Khufiya.

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Shikhar Agrawal
Shikhar Agrawal
I am an Onstage Dramatist and a Screenwriter. I have been working in the Indian Film Industry for the past 12 years, writing dialogues for various films and television shows.

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