Changez Khan (1957)

Of the many things that fascinate me about old Hindi cinema, this is one: the making of films set in a time and space wholly alien to India of the mid-1900’s. The 1950’s, especially, seem to favour these sort of films, set in exotic locales and needing costumes, makeup, and sets that were vastly different from what one saw in the more usual Bollywood drama, thriller or even mythological. There was Yahudi (with Dilip Kumar looking far from Roman in a light-haired wig and ankle-length gown); Aurat (based on the story of Samson and Delilah)—and this one, about the Mongol warrior king, Changez (better known to the West as Genghis) Khan.

The story begins in the Mongol camp, where Changez Khan (Sheikh Mukhtar) has just returned from a military campaign against the Tatars. Along with all the loot, the Mongols have brought back prisoners—old men (whom Changez Khan orders killed), young men (whom he orders conscripted in his own army), and women (whom he imprisons). There is much singing and dancing in the Mongol camp that night, but Changez himself is dissatisfied and restless.

He finally confides in his Indian friend and adviser, Bindusar (Tiwari). It emerges that Changez Khan had once fallen in love with a Tatar princess named Azra (Bina Rai). Azra, however, would have nothing to do with him, as a result of which Changez had her parents killed and unleashed a campaign of terror against all of Asia. He has no idea where Azra is now, but she continues to be the only woman he wants—and he is ready to lay everything waste in an effort to get her.

Other people too are affected by Changez Khan’s bloodlust. His mother (Leela Misra), who still calls him by his given name of Temujin, is constantly praying to the muqaddas roohein (the ‘sacred spirits’) to cure her son of his desire to kill.
Her brother, Changez Khan’s uncle Ustad (Jeevan), however, is pleased with Changez Khan’s ambition, and does all he can to fuel it. When his sister wrings her hands and says she wants to see an end to this tyranny, Ustad’s contention is that it isn’t tyranny, it’s the rule of the powerful.

Among the trophies won in the Tatar campaign is a sort of large box with a horse’s head on one side (a Tatar Trojan horse?). That night, while the Mongols sleep off their drunken revelry, the box opens—

—and spews out a gang of Tatar warriors, led by the Tatar commander Sherwa (Premnath). He and his men are here to rescue their imprisoned compatriots (isn’t that logic flawed? Since the Tatar horse was captured during the campaign, why didn’t these men fight then? Or did they—as soon as they realised Changez was going to defeat them—stealthily slip into the horse, so that they could launch a rescue mission later? Worse still, they actually confine themselves only to rescue, not to sabotaging the Mongol camp).
Anyway, Sherwa ends up face to face with Changez Khan, who is impressed by the young Tatar’s bravery, and offers him a position in the Mongol army.

A position which Sherwa, proud Tatar that he is, immediately turns down, with the result that he ends up with his arms tied to a sort of heavy wooden beam balanced on his shoulders. Being the hero that he is, it doesn’t take him long to escape. He does this by waiting until his lone guard is sleeping (very soundly), which is when Sherwa uses his teeth to draw the guard’s sword out of the scabbard. When the men wakes, Sherwa bashes him over the head with that wooden beam.
When a man is so resourceful, he deserves to escape.

The scene now shifts to another of Changez Khan’s pillaging expeditions. After looting and killing and generally wreaking havoc, Changez has a newly-captured bunch of Tatari girls presented before him. He rips off their veils, one by one, and finds among them:

Azra!
Changez is ecstatic, but caught between his obsession for this woman and his anger at a Tatar who tries to protect her—the worthy Tatar is killed, and Azra too falls on her knees and dies of shock.
At this stage, another Tatar—a bitter character—informs Changez Khan that the woman who’s just copped it wasn’t Azra but her twin, Zohra. Azra, instead, is safe and sound at the palace of the Tatar king Sultan Wang.

Bindusar is therefore sent to Wang’s court with a request for Azra to be handed over, to be Changez’s bride. Azra’s lover, the loyal and brave Sherwa, is in court too, and voices a protest. Wang pays no heed—he doesn’t think the scales balance: one girl on the one hand, thousands of Tatar lives on the other?
So Sherwa and Azra try to flee, but are caught and brought back, and Azra asks Wang what he would have done if it had been his daughter Changez had asked for?

Which induces a change of heart in Wang. He actually does take his own daughter to Changez, and Changez throws a fit when he discovers the deception. He imprisons Sultan Wang, and gives orders that a search be launched for Azra.

The Mongols eventually succeed in finding Azra, but only accidentally. Sherwa has hidden her in a friend’s house, but the other Tatars, scared that a furious Changez will put all of them to the sword unless Azra is handed over, overpower both Sherwa and his friend and kidnap Azra, sending her off in a litter to Changez. Midway, Azra escapes, and accidentally blunders into Bindusar’s camp.

Bindusar treats her with great respect—she calls him ‘brother’, and like any good Indian (as he repeatedly reminds us he is), he will uphold the sanctity of that relationship. Having first (at her request) rescued Sherwa from the annoyed Tatars, Bindusar takes both Azra and Sherwa to Changez. When Azra still refuses to marry Changez (citing the glowering Sherwa as the reason), Changez tries to kill Sherwa—only to have Bindusar leap into the breach, ready to defend the happiness of his so-called ‘sister’. All this gets him is a swift arrest and some bitter recriminations from a Changez who feels betrayed.
Sherwa, who hurls some abuses at Changez, also gets arrested.

At this stage, Azra faints in something resembling death (the women in her family obviously have a very tenuous grip on life; remember Zohra’s sudden death?). This gives everyone else time to discuss the possible ramifications of what will happen if Changez marries Azra.
Changez himself has resolved that should Azra agree to marry him, he will renounce the way of the sword. He even proclaims this to his army, causing much confusion.
Uncle Ustad is thoroughly peeved at this decision and tries to persuade Changez to not act the milquetoast.

And Changez’s mother has her own agenda. If Changez will give up his bloodthirsty ways, she will be very grateful. So when Azra (helpfully revived by a chained Sherwa singing loudly out in the rain) finally agrees to meet the Queen Mother, she gets an earful. Changez’s mother pleads, cajoles, and uses the most shameless emotional blackmail ever to persuade Azra that her sacrifice (“love is sacrifice,” says the old lady) will save the lives of countless millions throughout the world.

Will Azra give in? Or will her love for Sherwa win through? And what will become of Changez—will he continue with his ceaseless massacres, egged on by Ustad, or will Azra and his mother prevail? Watch on. There’s plenty more to come in this film, with more speechifying and some pretty mediocre swashbuckling.

What I liked about this film:

Sheikh Mukhtar. Not a character actor I know too well (I’ve not seen enough of him to yet form an opinion), but he’s impressive in this one. Partly, of course, it’s his sheer physical presence—he towers over everybody—but there’s also something very imposing about his voice, his eyes, his style of acting. Good bit of casting, that.

Mohabbat zinda rehti hai. Composed by Hansraj Bahl and very well sung by Mohammad Rafi. Except for O ruk jaa… lautke aana hoga, this was for me the only good song in an otherwise lacklustre score. But Bahl seems to have devoted his energies to Mohabbat zinda rehti hai: it’s an excellent tune, and is repeated throughout the second half of the film.

What I didn’t like:

Changez Khan isn’t one of those films for which I can pinpoint strong likes and dislikes. But yes, I’d have liked this better if the story had:
(a) fewer digressions
(b) less melodrama
(c) fewer flamboyant speeches
(d) much better props, costumes and makeup—especially for the supporting cast
(e) no comic side plot (Johnny Walker as Tez Khan, the Mongol who romances the hakim’s daughter much against the wishes of her father, is not at his best here)

But hey, worth one watch, at least. If for nothing else than to see Sheikh Mukhtar wearing what looks like a cross between a chandelier and a hangman’s noose on his head.

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33 thoughts on “Changez Khan (1957)

  1. lol at Sheikh Mukhtar’s “wearing what looks like a cross between a chandelier and a hangman’s noose on his head.“! He certainly was very impressive and I love his theatrical acting. Same with Premnath.

    The film sounds like it has too many escapes and captures! When it comes to period drama in the 50s, I prefer the films Sohrab Modi made. They were melodramatic, with lots of grand speeches, but somehow work much better. But who knows… for Premnath, Bina Rai and Sheikh Mukhtar, I might end up watching, after all!

  2. Yes, the story sounds muddled. But those two songs are lovely, Ruk ja and Mohabbat zinda ..

    BTW, saw you in Brunch this sunday. Congratulations. I liked your book too.

  3. bollyviewer: Yes, Changez Khan has too many escapes and captures for it to be really entertaining. Usually, if I’ve watched a film in the past couple of days, I can write a synopsis without having to refer to the film again. With this, it was impossible.
    I’d suggest this film mainly for Sheikh Mukhtar – even Bina Rai and Premnath look a little pudgy and past their heyday. If like me you’re willing to overlook a pudgy Premnath, it’s still not a Premnath film, if you know what I mean. His role’s much smaller than Sheikh Mukhtar’s.

    Ava: Thank you so much for your appreciation! I really appreciate that. :-)
    You hit the nail on the head, by the way, by saying the story’s muddled. Absolutely!

  4. Trust there to be a Hindi film that shows nothing about the real history of Changez Khan, however vaguely, and instead to be full of lost and found, brother-sister, parying mother- wicked unclie, ….in short, the works!

  5. Yes, he’s basically a sort of lovesick character, for whom everything hinges on whether or not Azra will marry him. His empire-building (or whatever) is hardly spoken of.
    Strange, really, because this is not at all what Changez Khan is known for even in popular opinion. Shahjahan, thanks to the Taj Mahal, has become pretty much a synonym for romance, but Changez?

  6. So this is what the famous Genghis Khan got up to, any idea how much of it is based on real life. Your screencaps of Premnath remind me how much of a stud he was, i’ve always felt he was somewhat underrated, his villainry acts in the 70’s were priceless i can never forget him in the climax of Johhny Mera Naam, he deserved an award for that scene alone

  7. I do like these costume dramas of 50s. In spite of everything I did end up enjoying Yahudi, and as you say might enjoy this one at least once.

    All I can remember about Sheikh Mukhtar (a film with Raj Kapoor) is that he has a very heavily marked face, which looks very very rough – adding to his hard looks. I bet that’s why he was cast for this role. :-D

    Such films usually have lovely songs. I’m surprised by the lack of them here except for the one you mention.

  8. Poor Bina Rai and Premnath – they did several movies togehter but none really clicked at the box office.

    If you haven’t seen it already, I recommend “Halaku” which has a similiar plot to Changez Khan but much better music and cast.:-)

  9. bollywoodeewana: As far as I know, the similarity to Genghis Khan’s real life is almost non-existent. His real name was Temujin, and there was a Tatar ruler named Wang Khan, but that’s about all I’ve been able to unearth so far (not that I did much research). At any rate, what with the vast number of women he’s supposed to have impregnated, the single-minded devotion to Azra is I’m sure a complete myth!
    Premnath was quite a hunk in the early days. Have you seen Aan or Naujawan? He’s fabulous in both, even though in Aan he’s the villain.

    pacifist: I remember having seen Sheikh Mukhtar in that Mehmood-Nanda starrer Qaidi No. 911, where he acted the prisoner. I guess that pockmarked, rough face made him as well-suited to the role of a tough criminal as he was to the role of Changez!
    Yes, this one was a bit of a dud when it came to songs. Except for Mohabbat zinda rehti hai and to some extent O ruk jaa, they’re all pretty forgettable.

    Shalini: Thank you for the Halaku recommendation! I’ve heard about it, but never seen it. Will certainly put it on my list ASAP. :-)

  10. bollywoodeewana’s question (iit wasn’t serious, was it?) prompted me to look up Changez Khan, and I think he had quite a life, esp as a child, to satisfy the most drama loving Hindi film director!
    Childhood engagements, poisoning, social abandonment, living in the wild, faternal friendships AND killings, weddings to to childhood sweetheart acc to dead father’s wishes, captures, escapes…

    But I don’t think they would even think of looking at any history to write a screenplay.

  11. That sounds very interesting, bawa! I’d have thought any Hindi film maker would’ve leapt at a history like that. What astonishes me is that somebody in the making of this film has already done some research (the Temujin and Wang Khan bit, plus other details, like the fact that Changez actually has imperial shamans to preside at important occasions and to consult the spirits) – so why not more? Or did someone simply decide that this was what the story was going to be, who cares what the Khan’s life was really like?

  12. I second the Halaku recommendation, Pran is great as Halaku and it’s very entertaining.

    Isn’t Helen in Changez Khan? She has a dance I think. Or did Indus cut it out :-{ I’ve been wanting to see it, but it’s never been subtitled. Guess I’m not missing much, although I do really love Sheikh Mukhtar.

  13. Yes, Helen is in Changez Khan – the film more or less begins with the song and dance in which she features (the lyrics begin Husn jawaan ishq jawaan jhoom rahe donon jahaan). Tuntun has a cameo in the dance too.

    I guess there’d been no point seeing this film if it wasn’t with subtitles – the long and impassioned speeches make up a good bit of it, and the action is so confused and muddled, you’d not be able to make much sense of it if you didn’t know what people said to each other.

  14. Changez Khan! Wow, that brings memories of Chitrahaar and Chayya Geet with Premnath tied to a tree in rain and singing ‘mohabbat zinda rehti hai’

    “Sheikh Mukhtar wearing what looks like a cross between a chandelier and a hangman’s noose on his head”
    ROTFL! You have a way with words!!

    Wasn’t Sheikh Mukhtar in Mehboob Khan’s Aurat! I remember staying up late at night to watch it.

    Poor Leela Mishra, what have they done with her! Just bad make-up or does she have a small pox past.

    bawa: thanks for the history bit sounds interesting. wonder how much history is in baaz, the film which I have just reviewed at my blog? (besharam adverstising!)
    I remember reading a article series on the mongols in National Geographic. But I always get confused with all these mongol Khans! Some years from now some might say the same thing for bollywood khans! ;-)

  15. memsaab: I hadn’t noticed the resemblance to Kevin Bacon. But yes, you’re right – there is a definite similarity.
    I looked for that Helen song on youtube. It used to be there but has since been removed by the user. Don’t let it bother you, though: it isn’t that great a song. Helen’s pretty, but much of the screen time is taken up by extras, especially women in costumes that are absolutely ludicrous.

    harvey: Oooh, you reviewed Baaz! Now that reminds me of Doordarshan – I remember seeing this film on a Sunday morning and not really liking it very much, except that I was very impressed with the lady who acted as the Portuguese… I didn’t know who she was then, but I thought those flashing eyes were quite amazing. :-)
    Poor Leela Mishra is a victim of the evil makeup wallah. In extreme closeups, I could see that her wrinkles had been painted on, without either texturing or depth being provided by say a darker shade. As if wrinkles are simply 2D lines on someone’s face!

  16. Yes, Rajshri Productions did make a lot of those films that were either too sweet or too sob-inducing. Dosti, Aarti, Akhiyon ke Jharokhon Se… but I also notice that they made films like Saudagar and Jeevan Mrityu, which were pretty good.

  17. Never heard of this movie—reading your article ,found out that Dad had a ” not so memorable” role in it.I am trying to get all the names of the hindi films that Dad had worked in,be the roles small or big,good or bad—Thanks to this article, now I can add Changez Khan to my list.

    • Yes, your father’s role didn’t do him justice in this film! But, coincidentally, the last Hindi film I saw and reviewed did feature him in a good role: Pyaar ka Sapna, 1967. Not a very large role, but an important one, and he had some very good dialogues.

    • Oh, sorry – I realised only after having written this comment that you’d also commented on my Pyaar ka Sapna post. Yes, other than the music (and the presence of your father, Helen and Mala Sinha – all of whom I like a lot) that film didn’t have much to recommend it. Especially not Biswajeet!

    • I just checked my notes for the film. These are the songs:

      Husn jawaan, ishq jawaan, jhoom rahe donon jahaan:
      O ruk jaa… lautke aana hoga, aahe bhar-bhar humko manaana hoga
      Yeh hokar rahega, yeh hona likha hai
      Mohabbat zinda rehti hai, mohabbat mar nahin sakti
      Samarkand ke, Yarkand ke, Tashkent ke, Kashkant ke, tohfe hain purnoor

      I’ve forgotten everything about the last song (and am not able to find a link to it on youtube), but that could be the only candidate, since all the others are either solos (mostly Rafi), or duets (Rafi plus either Lata or Sudha Malhotra). Let me know if you are able to find out.

  18. No comic sideplot?!! I think the whole movie was a spoof! I saw it in 1957 age 9, and what I remember is that Genghis Khan became ‘the conqueror” because Johnnie Walker took Azra around the world and Khan, looking for her, conquered each settlement he came across! But on the whole the review above is extremely well written.

    • Well, you obviously had much more maturity at age 9 than I had at age 37.

      But thank you for saying that “on the whole the review above is extremely well written.” It helped make me feel somewhat less of a fool!

  19. Hi
    i have been looking for a song from Changhez Khan “samarkand ke Yarkand ke Tashkand tuhfe hain purnoor’ (singers Lata Mangeshkar & Sudha Malhotra) for sometime on the internet without any luck. Can some one post the song or atleast direct me to a website where it is posted. It used to be available but now when I want to download it I can’t find it. Harjinder

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