The 14th Dalai Lama is respected and revered by millions the world over. His widely covered visits to countries like Canada, the USA, Australia and to Europe demonstrate his enduring appeal. The 84-year old spiritual leader of the Tibetan people has featured on Forbes’s list of the world’s most powerful and influential people and in 2014 he was one of Fortune’s top ten world’s greatest leaders.
A critical part of the story of the Dalai Lama’s escape from Tibet in 1959 has never been told in detail before. This part concerns an Indian official who located the revered Tibetan leader at the Indo-Chinese border and smuggled him across the harsh and perilous terrain of the Himalayas to safety in the Indian plains in 1959. This film will bring the Buddhist leader, renowned for peace advocacy, face to face with the Indian official and each will relive, separately, those weeks of tension and danger.
Access to the officer, Har Mander Singh is exclusive to the film. The film will include interviews with him and the Dalai Lama. The officer has not spoken in detail about his role in this story before now. For 60 years the Dalai Lama has campaigned for peace and nonviolent political change.
He meets with different religious heads, theologians, country leaders, scientists and newsmakers to explore areas of mutual interest. Winner of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize, the Dalai Lama has over 19 million Twitter followers. In addition to his international popularity, for Tibetans, the Dalai Lama has always been the “Most Precious One.” His undisputed, divine status as Tibet’s former religious and temporal ruler dates back along 13 Dalai Lamas and several centuries to well before the country was overrun by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in 1950.
China invaded because it wanted complete control of autonomous Tibet to strengthen its western flank, among other reasons to do with minerals and water. The Chinese had grown frustrated with the power and influence held by the 14th Dalai Lama, so they used various tactics to try to isolate and destroy him. They decided he was standing in the way of their territorial ambition so they decided to try to terminate his lineage. By the late fifties PLA soldiers had flooded Tibetan strongholds. A fearsome network of spies and informers helped its masters create a vice-like grip on the Tibetan leadership. Finally, the Chinese military advanced and encircled the Dalai Lama’s hilltop summer palace. PLA guns, cannons, tanks and heavy artillery were aimed directly at his living quarters.
By March 1959, Tibetans were so terrified for the life of their leader that they mounted a rebellion against the Chinese overlords, surrounding the Dalai Lama’s palace and placing themselves between him and the PLA soldiers. The Dalai Lama was in danger; even his trusted wise oracles told him so. He escaped in the dead of night with his closest advisors, tutors and some family members. He was disguised as a soldier, stumbling, nearly blind, as he had had to remove his trademark spectacles. He was also scared at that point, he says.
With the help of CIA -trained Tibetan guerrillas who had been smuggled out to the US to be coached and drilled, the Dalai Lama and his retinue fled to southern Tibet. But the Chinese still hunted him, by air and on land, intent on “disposing” of him. Neighbouring countries refused to accept the Tibetan party, fearing China’s wrath. With contentious border issues and a mightier neighbour than itself, India too had been reluctant previously. But now Washington persuaded India’s PM Nehru, to agree to asylum for the Dalai Lama. In India itself, vague instructions over a crackling wireless with a poor signal were sent from Delhi to the north-east frontier via an intermediary outpost. They reached the political officer in the Indian Frontier Division to which it was thought the Dalai Lama might escape.
The officer, Har Mander Singh, was tasked with working out the then unknown entry point for the Tibetan party. He was to meet the “Dignitary” as India’s emissary, identify and “neutralize” any disguised Chinese assassins following him, and conduct the young Buddhist leader to safety in the Indian plains. Then the wireless went dead.
Riding by pony, Har Mander Singh completed an eight-day journey in three days, to get to the Dalai Lama who was weakened and sick after his deadly flight from capture and likely death guarding him with his own life throughout the journey, Singh carefully brought the party across Indian mountains on foot and horseback, anxious about spies when devotees, overjoyed at seeing their leader, mobbed him seeking blessings.
Knowing that he was on an important mission, Singh wrote a personal diary of his assignment that needed to be kept secret so long as he was in active service. A private man, he has not revealed its contents before but will read from the diary on camera for this film. There is no restriction now on its use and all permissions are cleared to use in the film.
Singh will also use photographs taken at the time with his own box camera, explaining the story behind them; they’re vital visual evidence of a key moment in world history.
• The story about the escape is exclusive to the Film Production Company.• This is the first time one of the world’s greatest living leaders has spoken on film about his historic escape from Tibet into India in 1959 with the Indian Political Officer who led him to safety, Har Mander Singh. This can never happen again since the officer sadly passed away in December 2020.• We expect a strong demand for the completed production worldwide.• The film has been made to appeal to a wide international audience and the storyline covers more than the escape, to include details about the Dalai Lama’s environmental and social message for young people and the wider society at large. As such, this is a highly unique and special “once in a lifetime” film.• The film is inspired by the book “An Officer and His Holiness” by Rani Singh
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