Five hundred burglaries, 15 years in jail, a countrywide police chase, and a blockbuster Hindi feature film based on his shenanigans – these are just some of the many feathers in the cap of the (in)famous 'superthief' Bunty chor or Devinder Singh who inspired the 2008 Dibakar Banerjee film Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! starring Abhay Deol.
A 'renowned' thief who completed a 10-year jail term in Kerala in March 2023, Bunty was arrested again on Friday, 14 April, by the Delhi Police from Uttar Pradesh's Kanpur.
Bunty also made an appearance on the popular reality TV show Bigg Boss in 2010. Since 1993, the 53-year-old has been arrested at least six times by police forces across India and has been convicted thrice.
Less than a month after he walked out of jail, Bunty was arrested again. The Quint finds out why and how.
Old Habits Die Hard
Bunty's arrest on Friday – which occurred less than a month of his release from a jail in Kerala where he was lodged since 2013 for robbing an NRI businessman of a Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) worth Rs 28 lakh – was in connection with two high-profile burglaries reported in south Delhi's Greater Kailash area.
As per Deputy Commissioner of Police (South) Chandan Choudhary, on 13 April, two separate FIRs under Sections 457 (trespassing) and 380 (theft) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) were registered at the Chittaranjan Park police station.
"The first complainant, a resident of M block in GK-2 alleged theft of three expensive mobile phones, a purse, two laptops, branded shoes, wrist watch and her Baleno car. The second complainant from GK-2's E Block reported theft of electrical items such as a steam press, five Sony television sets with set top boxes, and a printer," DCP Choudhary said.
The police first traced the accused's location to a highway near Agra in Uttar Pradesh, and after an inter-state chase, they caught the 53-year-old 'superthief' at a toll booth near Kanpur.
The Quint spoke to retired Delhi police ACP Rajinder Singh, whose character was played by actor Anurag Arora in Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!.
Singh said, "Thieves usually find easy targets when it comes to burglaries but Bunty always chose the more difficult houses to break in."
"I remember this case from New Friends Colony where he wanted to break into a house which had a rottweiler dog. Bunty consulted a veterinarian as a part of his research and used a cotton cloth soaked in urine of a female dog to mislead the canine."(Retd) ACP Rajinder Singh
This incident – recalled by (retd) ACP Singh – found mention in the 2008 film too.
As per the Delhi police records, Bunty's first arrest was in 1993. Since then, he has been involved in at least 500 cases of theft and has been in and out of jail since then.
In a 2013 interview to The Indian Express, Bunty's father Kripal Singh had said, "He met me five months ago and told me that he was out of Tihar jail and he had completely stopped committing thefts." Singh also told IE that Bunty left home in 1989 at the age of 14. For a long time, the family had no news of him, though in a desperate search, they had even placed a missing ad in a newspaper.
"Later, we came to know about the life that Devinder was leading. In our entire family there is no one like him," said Kripal, who was then living in Delhi's Vikaspuri area.
'An Idol for Aspiring Thieves'
Several current and former police personnel are of the opinion that Bunty is a "witty person beaming with confidence, fond of luxury cars, computers, and popular among his female friends."
Sample this: Bunty was arrested by the team of Special Staff, south Delhi district, in connection with certain cases of theft between 2008 and 2011.
Special CP (Special Cell) HGS Dhaliwal who was posted as DCP (South) at the time told The Quint that during interrogation, Bunty narrated an incident which summarises his 'style' of operating.
"Once, he was trying to steal a car from a busy market and the owner of the car caught him and raised an alarm. Instead of panicking or trying to flee from the spot, Bunty slapped the the owner in front of everybody and blamed him for having bought 10 air conditioners (from Bunty) and not paying for them due to which he was being forced to 'take' his car away! While everybody around thought that the car owner actually owed Bunty some money, he confidently drove away with the stolen car," Special CP Dhaliwal recalled.
Another Delhi Police personnel, on condition of anonymity, said that at the peak of his criminal career "Bunty became an idol" for other thieves.
"All of them wanted to be Bunty as if he was a brand ambassador of sorts. He regularly made it to the newspapers and his ability to take risks was what set him apart from other thieves," he said.
Pet Dogs, Luxury Cars, Whisky Flasks on Bunty's List of Stolen Items
As per DCP (south) Chandan Choudhary, among the items recovered by the Delhi Police from Bunty on 14 April were:
A red Baleno car
Two laptops including one Apple Mac
Three mobile phones
One RADO Golden and Steel wrist watch
One grey and black laptop bag
One green Fossil make-up purse
Five Sony television sets with set top boxes
One steam iron
One LG printer
Original identity cards of the complainant and her family members
Debit and credit cards of complainants
Cheque book of the complainants
One identity card with 'POLICE' written on one side with Bunty's photograph on the other side
Rs 2,500 in cash.
(Retd) ACP Rajinder Singh told The Quint that Bunty always had an eye for unique things when it came to what he stole from people.
"While other thieves would target items which they could easily sell in the market, Bunty stole things which he fancied. These included luxury cars, watches, antique paintings, computers, keyboards, pet dogs, and even whiskey flasks. Instead of selling some of these things, he took them home and used them. Sometimes, he gifted them to his female friends," (Retd) ACP Singh said.
It appears that Bunty's modus operandi and the items he fancies haven't changed.
In Popular Culture
In 2008, Dibakar Banerjee directed Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!, a comedy film starring Abhay Deol, Paresh Rawal, and Neetu Chandra, which was based on the life of Bunty.
In the film, a boy from a dysfunctional family in west Delhi grows up to become a charismatic and fearless man who robs the elite in a unique fashion, often not out of necessity but just for fun.
The film won the National Award for the Best Popular Film in 2009.
Bunty then went on to participate in reality TV show Bigg Boss in 2010. He, however, was eliminated from the show on the second day for "misbehaving" with host, actor Salman Khan.