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I spy a realistic spy

Updated on: 16 April,2024 07:22 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Letty Mariam Abraham |

Aiming to bridge the gap between fact and fiction, director Anshuman Kishore Singh and ex-intelligence officer Prabhakar Aloka on how they teamed up to authentically depict undercover agents in Adrishyam: The Invisible Heroes

I spy a realistic spy

Divyanka Tripathi as BIA Agent Parvati Sehgal

The name is Bond, James Bond. Closer home, it’s Pathaan, Tiger and so on. Movies and series on Indian intelligence agencies are plenty, complete with stylised weapons, complicated espionage tactics, and lots of action. But former Intelligence Bureau officer Prabhakar Aloka says real-life intelligence agencies are far removed from the fiction we see on screen. In order to bring the reality of these unknown heroes to light, he came on board as an advisor for Adrishyam: The Invisible Heroes, starring Divyanka Tripathi and Eijaz Khan. Director Anshuman Kishore Singh and Aloka share their creative journey and how they made Adrishyam a blend of fact and fiction.


Aloka joined the team of the SonyLIV web series nine months before the shoot, aiding them in research and writing. In fact, it was he who suggested the title, Adrishyam. Singh, who previously helmed shows like Crime Patrol, Code Red Awaaz, and CID, says, “I had no idea how the Intelligence Bureau [IB] works. With Aloka sir’s input, we figured out the functioning of the IB.

Eijaz Khan as BIA Agent Ravi Verma
Eijaz Khan as BIA Agent Ravi Verma

He gave us [ample] stories. In nine months, my entire perspective and the story changed. In the show, it is a fictionalised agency. It is an amalgamation of the Intelligence Bureau [IB] and the National Intelligence Agency [NIA].” Building a fictitious spy unit, Bharat Intelligence Agency (BIA), gave him the creative liberty to show his actors performing action and having gun-fights.

Busting myths

Adrishyam tells the story of the BIA’s undercover officers Ravi and Parvati, who track and neutralise terror risks, while posing as employees of the meteorological department to the outside world. The idea behind the show, Singh says, was to depict the working of an intelligence agency and how officers neutralise national threats, without the aam junta knowing about them. Aloka, who worked with the IB for 30 years, says that he wanted to bring the real world to the viewers. “People have different ideas about this world, which is now popularly called the spyverse. People have a very romantic idea of agents. [They believe spies to be like] James Bond, who takes his martini shaken but not stirred, can fight many people, and use gizmos and guns. Seeing that fictional world being propagated in the name of spy world made me feel, having spent about a quarter century plus in this profession, that I should at least try to present what the near truth is,” says Aloka, who has penned two books—Operation Haygreeva and Operation Sudarshan Chakra.

Director Anshuman Kishore Singh on the set of Adrishyam
Director Anshuman Kishore Singh on the set of Adrishyam

However, the ex-officer understands that for a series to be entertaining, it needs to enjoy some creative freedom. “When you are dealing with hostile elements and don’t have weapons in your hand, it’s a very troubling scenario. I wanted to project that, but then there are limitations in modern presentation. You have to have some element of action so that it is commercially viable. Making a true spy movie, where the spies undergo psychological trauma and cognitive disruptions, is difficult.”

Echoes of reality in fiction

When asked exactly how much of the show is based on reality, Singh pegs it at nearly 75 per cent. He says that the torture sequences to get terrorists and their accomplices to spill the beans are borrowed from reality. “Aloka sir will not agree to it because of his official position, but everything happens. To get information out of a terrorist, a lot of techniques are applied. Yaseen Bhatkal, [a convicted Indian Islamist terrorist who was the co-founder and leader of the terrorist organisation Indian Mujahideen], was given truth serum injections to extract information. In one of the episodes, we introduced Saira, who is a spy in the Pakistani camp. The character is [inspired from] a real person, who spied on Pakistan [as a local] and gathered information.”

An episode traces how new hires in the agency are put on the field with some physical and mental training; the rest of the learning happens on the job. Aloka seconds that. “In this trade, the training is different. We have to be mentally and physically prepared. Unless you are physically fit, you can’t be mentally active. When you are on the field, you have to be mentally prepared to take decisions on your own because you don’t have anybody to look back at,” explains the ex-officer, adding that as a spy, one has to use any means to get information. “Sometimes, we have to measure the consequences and then take action. We are not there to take the bull by the horns [every time]. Sometimes, we have to run away.”

For Singh, the biggest challenge was to get his actors in line with the concept of the show. “The first thing that we had to do was tell the actors that this is not the police force or the Indian Army. Aloka sir told me that when he had just joined the IB, he had said ‘Jai Hind sir’ to his [superior], with a salute. His superior told him, ‘You have to be casual here because you have to become a common man. You have to become part of the crowd.’”

The spy world so far

While we have a plethora of movies and shows on spies, none have gotten the audience hooked like The Family Man and Special Ops. Singh agrees that the Manoj Bajpayee-led series takes a close look at the spy world. “I think Special Ops is raw and too stylised, which is not close to reality. The Family Man is closer to how things are. But Adrishyam is different because while the BIA collects intelligence, there will be action too. The backstories of their respective families and their emotional journeys have been well-placed. While in The Family Man, one story runs into 10 episodes, here we end the story in two to four episodes,” shares the director. However, Aloka believes that one cannot make comparisons with any show or film because there is nothing to compare. “I will only point out one aspect of this entire series. [In real life], we are dealing with an adversary who is equally competent, [unlike how they are often picturised], which is what we did in Adrishyam.”

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