Where I go, cinema seems to follow.
Well, not unusual, in this day and age, especially not in a country where cinema is so well-loved. But on a recent weekend trip to Mussoorie, I made a discovery that excited me so much, I had to share it.
Mussoorie, as some of you may know, has several filmi connections: actors Tom Alter and Victor Bannerjee are residents, as is the much-loved Ruskin Bond, author of A Flight of Pigeons (on which the 1979 film Junoon was based), as well as of the stories on which The Blue Umbrella and Saat Khoon Maaf were based.
On our last evening in Mussoorie, walking along the Mall, we found the road choked by a crowd. There were cameras, bright lights—and Neil Nitin Mukesh in a striped T-shirt, busy shooting.
Then I discovered, on a visit to Sisters Bazaar in Landour (and having referred to one of Ruskin Bond’s books on Mussoorie and Landour) that the long, low building that once housed the nuns, was later owned by Dev Anand.
Yup. Cinema follows me around.
But. The discovery.
My husband and I were walking along the Mall from Picture Palace (which, by the way, used to be Mussoorie’s first electric cinema – it opened in 1912, which was the same year electricity came to Mussoorie). We’d crossed the pleasant red façade of Clark’s Hotel—and suddenly, this was what I saw:
A rather cheesy sort of name for an eatery, one would assume. Something that served everything from chicken sandwiches to chocolates? (and they do, as we found out when we entered). But for me, Chick Chocolate didn’t mean chicken and chocolate—it instantly brought to mind Chic Chocolate, the jazz musician who was one of the first to bring Western rhythms into Hindi film music. Remember C Ramachandra’s peppy Shola jo bhadke or Madan Mohan’s Ae dil mujhe bata de? Both owed their pep and charm in large part to Chic Chocolate.
Chic Chocolate (1916-67) was a Goan, born Antonio Xavier Vaz. By the 1940s, Vaz—by then calling himself ‘Chic Chocolate’—had become part of a band (‘Chic Chocolate and his Music Makers’) that played in Bombay. Chic’s style of playing was modelled on the legendary Louis Armstrong, and he came to be known (by the Americans who were then in Bombay) as the ‘Indian Louis Armstrong’.
An absorbing—and informative—piece on Chic Chocolate and the other ‘Western-style’ musicians who helped change the sound of Hindi film music—is to be found here. It’s from Naresh Fernandes’s book, Taj Mahal Foxtrot, and is a fascinating account of how men like Chic Chocolate, with their understanding of Western tunes as well as their ability to read musical notation, played a crucial role in arranging film music. More related pieces of writing (and some great audio clips) are available at the Taj Mahal Foxtrot website.
Chic Chocolate went on to become an invaluable assistant to music directors such as C Ramachandra and Madan Mohan (the first time I came across Chic’s name in the credits was in the film Bhai-Bhai, where he’s listed as assistant to Madan Mohan). He even composed scores on his own—for Naadaan (1951), Rangeeli (1952), and Kar Bhala (1956). This lovely, frothy song from Naadaan, Aa teri tasveer bana loon, is a Chic composition:
As is Hum nainon mein laaye hain pyaar, from Rangeeli—which I think is a nice blend of folksy, very ‘Indian’ elements, and a little Western influence.
My favourites, though, are the ones that Chic Chocolate did not compose totally on his own, but certainly helped create. For example, the fantastic Gore-gore o baanke chhore from Samadhi:
And Eena meena deeka, so full of verve and pizzazz that it always makes me want to get up and shake a leg:
And Shola jo bhadke, from Albela, and Ae dil mujhe bata de, from Bhai-Bhai.
Plus dozens more. My father, for instance, when I mentioned Chic Chocolate, said, “Oh, yes. He was really good. You can hear his trumpet in Ajeeb daastaan hai yeh”. (Can anybody pinpoint any other film songs where the trumpet is Chic Chocolate’s? I’d love to know!)
Here’s one, where you can actually see Chic Chocolate onscreen—it’s Rut jawaan jawaan, from Aakhri Khat (1967).
And if you want to listen to some of Chic Chocolate’s non-filmi playing, there are some clips on Youtube. There’s the fantastic Tickle me not, for example; the equally great Contessa, and Feel chic—so very enjoyable, and so superbly played. This man had real talent.
Now, to get back to my Mussoorie story. I was so eager to find out the story behind the name of the restaurant that my husband kindly offered to give me coffee and cake at Chick Chocolate. And, while we were waiting for our order to be served, my husband asked the elderly gentleman (obviously the owner) at the counter: was the restaurant named after the legendary jazz trumpeter?
The gentleman was puzzled; it turned out he’d never even heard of Chic Chocolate, but he was intrigued nevertheless. He admitted that he didn’t know why the restaurant was named what it was. “My father set it up in 1940,” he said. “He named it, but I don’t know why he gave it this name.”
I have to confess I felt a wee bit disappointed. Here I’d been hoping there was a Chic Chocolate connection. But it seemed as if it might actually have been a corny attempt to combine ‘chicken’ and ‘chocolate’.
When I returned from Mussoorie, though, on a whim, I decided to check up on Chic Chocolate’s biography. And guess what? This is what I found:
“By the mid-40s, after he had played in Rangoon and Mussourie…”
Mussoorie. Chic Chocolate played in Mussoorie.
Is my imagination running wild, thinking that a restaurateur, setting up a new eatery, decided to name it after the jazz sensation he’d heard playing in town? Was Chic Chocolate really the man after whom the restaurant was named?
I hope so.