Agent Vinod casually upset the devious designs of Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) while grooving to the tunes of Pyaar ki Pungi. James Bond usually romances multiple women and sets style trends before killing the bad guy. What about India's intelligence operators? Do their lives and work bear any semblance to the silver screen portrayals of spies?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants India's intelligence services to use movies to motivate their staff whose hard work and sacrifices go unsung due to the secretive nature of their work, even as they lead opaque, dangerous and often uncertain lives. He made these remarks during the annual Intelligence Bureau Endowment Lecture on 23 December, in Delhi. The event was closed to the media and this story is based on conversations with multiple people who were present at the event. They asked not to be named.
Apart from asking the security community to help produce movies depicting the work of its officers, the Prime Minister asked for better analysis, upgrade of its technology and development of case studies as learning guides.
The Prime Minister's Office (PMO) did not respond to an email seeking comment.
A senior PMO official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the PM's remarks must be read in the right context. "The country celebrates the Indian Army for liberating Bangladesh, but the contribution of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) or the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) can never be talked about. How does one remember the faceless and nameless operator? The Prime Minister's suggestion should be seen in this context of making these people feel glamorous and worthwhile."
Hollywood has made many blockbusters showcasing the importance of intelligence work. Zero Dark Thirty showed how the Central Intelligence Agency went about getting Osama Bin Laden. Argo depicted an extraordinary CIA operation in Iran. Munich showcased the capabilities and doggedness of the Israel's Mossad. Salt projected the capabilities of the Russian intelligence. But Indian films have rarely showcased India's covert capabilities and achievements of the Indian intelligence agencies.
Indian intelligence agencies have spectacular operations to their credit. Many are quoted and cited as examples by their foreign counterparts, both friendly and hostile.
For instance, in the late 1980s, when Khalistan militancy was at its peak in Punjab, an Intelligence Bureau officer walked into the besieged Golden Temple in Amritsar posing as a Pakistani agent months before the 1988 Operation Black Thunder and obtained vital intelligence on the militants holed up inside.
For instance, in the late 1980s, when militancy was at its peak in Punjab, an Intelligence Bureau officer walked into the besieged Golden Temple in Amritsar posing as a Pakistani agent months before the 1988 Operation Black Thunder and obtained vital intelligence on the militants holed up inside.
The legendary B. Raman, who had a long association with the RAW, documented how a mole in the office of the then Pakistani President, Yahya Khan, informed India about the exact date and time and location of the first Pakistan airstrike signalling beginning of hostilities in the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War. The list of such operations is long.
"Intelligence can be soul destroying," former Secretary of the RAW, K.C. Verma, told HuffPost India. Jayadeva Ranade, a China specialist who has spent many years in the RAW, said that films showcasing the profession will surely help and bring back the focus on the classical intelligence work. "Projection surely help people appreciate intelligence agencies better," Sanjeev Tripati, former Secretary, RAW.