Saturday, August 1, 2009

Following Where the Chocolate Hero Leads

I just had the kind of online morning that I used to have, back in the days before the Internet "signal-to-noise" ratio was all a-skew toward selling things to the searcher. (Although despite this consumer-oriented paradigm, I have been completely unable to rustle up a copy of the K.L. Saigal Devdas, so any leads on that are as welcome as info on the actual topic at hand. DVD, VHS, I'll even try VCD).

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.


Bollyviewer said...

Thats interesting - I never thought of Ashok Kumar as chocolote boy hero! (I have read Mihir Bose's book, but have no idea how I missed this nugget of information.) But then, its still hard for me to think of him as a matinee idol since I've seen more of his character roles than hero ones.

For some reason, I think of the 60s as the decade that ushered in the chocolate boys (guys in films before that were usually more rugged) - in Bollywood there was Joy Mukherjee and in Hollywood there was Robert Redford and George Peppard (and perhaps more that I dont know of).

Isnt there the "chocolate-cream soldier" in Shaw's Arms And The Man? That should take chocolate heroes back several decades (the play was first produced in 1894).

memsaab said...

Oh Ashok was so beautiful when young :-) I have read somewhere that the term comes from a time when handsome men decorated boxes of chocolates---so started with "chocolate box" hero and became merely "chocolate" hero (or boy)...and I never heard the term in relation to Hollywood (which doesn't mean it wasn't used there), I only heard it when I got involved in Hindi film watching.

Thanks for the links to the documentary, can't wait to see it :-) (and ps I don't think Saigal's Devdas is available in digital form anywhere, but if I do manage to track it down you'll be the first person I notify, please to do the same in reverse if you find it!) :-)

Anarchivist said...

I definitely will!

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