Anyway: it all started with the phrase "chocolate boy," and how it always makes me giggle. I think the context was Imran Khan's recent interviews about he doesn't want to be labeled a chocolate boy. (Of course not; nobody ever does). In explaining the term to someone unfamiliar with it, I believe I called Twilight heartthrob Robert Pattinson a chocolate boy, and discovered it's actually a fairly useful description!
Then last night, as I was reading Mihir Bose's Bollywood: A History, I got to the early days of Ashok Kumar, who I always associate with his roles from the '50s onward -- up to, say, Jewel Thief -- when he was older, burlier, and more ruggedly handsome. Nonetheless, according to Bose, critics of his youthful debut role in Jeevan Naya "had called him a 'chocolate hero.' " (p. 113)
Since Bose also refers to Ashok as "the Hindi screen's first matinee idol" (p. 112), it made me wonder how much farther back this chocolate hero/chocolate boy thing goes. (The two phrases seem to be used interchangeably, even in the recent blurbs about Imran). Was Ashok the first chocolate boy of Hindi cinema?
A Google search was not, needless to say, particularly helpful, but it did bring up some amusing thumbnails. Like this one, from a list of WordPress tags about Omkara, that most chocolate-boyish of films: "The earliest record of it can be found in Vedic texts..." Sadly, I don't think they mean that the earliest record of the phrase "chocolate boy" can be found in Vedic texts.
Another random hit brought me to a blog called The Bioscope, which is dedicated to silent films and their technology. I started scrolling through the recent entries, and discovered a post about Prakash Traveling Cinema, a short film directed by Megha B. Lakhani. It's a documentary about a pair of friends who run a 100-year-old hand-cranked film projector on a pushcart, showing clips of Bollywood movies they've edited together themselves.
You can watch it on YouTube (and I highly recommend it):
Prakash Traveling Cinema Part One
Prakash Traveling Cinema Part Two
This was a fascinating diversion, not least because this is a job my husband is eminently qualified to do. He could edit the film stock and run the projector, and I could do the huckstering! Before I drifted off for more coffee, it occurred to me: what even brought me this direction? Well, the site was posting excerpts from a 1912 book called How to Run a Picture Theatre, and referred to Chocolate Sellers (a.k.a. chocolate boys) during a discussion of the basic staff needed to operate a silent film theater.
None of this helped me unseat Ashok from the position of Original Chocolate Hero, but it's all been interesting!
Nonetheless, if anyone's seen reference to a chocolate hero or chocolate boy in Indian cinema prior to 1936 (or knows where I can get a copy of Devdas!), feel free to drop me a note.