HomeHimalayasWhy So Many Films Were Made on Himalayas During 1950s?

Why So Many Films Were Made on Himalayas During 1950s?

Some of the most important and controversial films on different aspects of life in the Himalayas and especially in Tibet were made during the 1950s. These include Cesta vede do Tibetu or The Road Leads to Tibet (1954) by ’Tibetan Traders’ (1957); ‘Seven Years in Tibet‘ (1956); ‘The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas‘ (1957); ‘Storm Over Tibet‘ (1952) etc. Most of these films were documentaries or semi-documentaries made to believe as the true pictures of Tibet. The semi-documentary ‘The Road Leads to Tibet‘ made in communist Czech was even banned by the communist government.

There were many books that were written on Tibet during this period. ‘The Nine Billion Names of God‘ (1953) by  Arthur C. Clarke is one of the best science fiction plots in Tibet. Most of the travel writing of Rahul Sankrityan on Tibet were also written during this period or the 1930s.

Image: German expedition to Tibet in the year 1939


A previous wave of global interest in the Himalayas and Tibet was seen during the 1930s when a large number of explorers, mountaineers and secret German & American expeditions went to Tibet through India to explore the land. There were a few films also made on the sociocultural issues related to Tibet. This includes ‘Demon of the Himalayas’ (1935); ‘Werewolf of London‘ (1935); ‘Stolen Life‘ (1939); and ‘Lost Horizon‘ (1937 film).

It is believed that German dictator Hitler wanted to conquer Tibet by establishing a racial relationship with the people of Tibet. In 1938, he sent an ethnographic expedition under Ernst Schäfer to establish the hypothesis that the people of Tibet belong to the Aryan race.

Apart from that the expeditions to climb various Himalayan peaks including Nanda Devi, Kailasha, Trishul etc and entered into the Indo-Tibet border through Uttarakhand. This includes the famous expedition of Smyth who discovered the ‘Valley of Flowers‘ in the year 1931-32.

Image: Rahul Sankrityayan in Tibet in the year 1934 during his third visit to the land.


The global interest in Tibet increased after the defeat of the Germans and the increasing claims of Communist China over the Tibet region during the late 1940s. The most important event of the early 1950s was the conquest of Tibet by Communist China in the year 1951. This was a threat to western capitalist civilization vis-a-vis Communist USSR. This was also the period when the world entered the era of the Cold War between Communist USSR-China vs Capitalist USA-Western Europe. It was an ideological war.

By the early 1960s communists were powerful enough to globally resist the domination of capitalist Europe and America. The establishment of a communist regime in Cuba and Venezuela, the failure of the USA in Vietnam, the Cuban Missile Crisis etc established the irresistible communist regime globally. This discouraged films made by Europeans or Americans on issues or lands in disputes with the communist world systems anywhere in the world.

The defeat of India in the 1962 Indo-Chinese war was the final blow to the filmmaking on the issues related to Tibet. ‘The Road to Hong Kong‘ (1962) was the last film made that touches anything related to Tibet. The only film made after that and before the 1990s was the Chinese film ‘The Horse Thief’ (1986) but not even a single European or American film was made.

A wave of Films: Cultural Warfare

In the age of the Cold War, the culture of the people living in the land becomes the most important battlefield of warfare. This is also known as ‘Soft-Power’ in explaining the international relationship between two countries or two groups of countries.

Most of the films made during the 1950s on Himalayan people and especially people of Tibet depict the Socio-Cultural distinctness of the people of Tibet. This was an attempt of the western world to support the independent identity of Tibet and thus their cause for freedom from Chinese rule.

Another Wave:

The disintegration of the USSR in 1991 and the Communist mode of production globally since the late 1980s encouraged filmmaking on Tibet since the 1990s. More than 50 films were made on issues related to Tibet since the 1990s. Most of these films again show the mystic and spiritual life of Tibet as a resistance to the material life of communist China.

The Chinese government also encouraged filmmaking on Tibet since the 1990s. The famous Chinese film ‘Honghegu’ (Red River Valley) of 1997 was made to watch freely by the Chinese government in schools and in public. The story is about Tibetan resistance to the British invasion in 1903-04. This is an attempt by the Chinese government to inculcate nationalist feelings among the people of Tibet against western imperialism.

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Sweety Tindde
Sweety Tinddehttp://huntthehaunted.com
Sweety Tindde works with Azim Premji Foundation as a 'Resource Person' in Srinagar Garhwal.


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