Chic Chocolate: the Mussoorie Connection?

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.

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89 thoughts on “Chic Chocolate: the Mussoorie Connection?

  1. WOW!!! I’m sure your conjecture is right, DO. Why else would anyone name their shop Chic Chocolate. The year seems to fit. Chic Chocolate must have been a popular celebrity in Mussoorie at that time, and a young man wanting to open a shop would call it by that name in his fandom. :)

    Thank you for the information about the musician Chic Chocolate. To think so many songs which we enjoy has this history behind it.

    The shop has branches in Dehradun too. Chikies as we used to call it sold chicken salamis and the younger brother of one of our friends would go up and say, ‘salami do’ (a joke shared by him and the shop assistant).

    Kalpana Kartik still lives in that house. There is a road called ‘Palpitation Road’ (because of being very steep) right in front of Wynberg Allen School, Bina Rai lived in a house on this road (at the lower end, not much to climb).

    Very interesting. Thanks DO.

    • Thanks for the interesting bit of information about Kalpana Karthik, pacifist! I hadn’t known she was still there – the book I was referring to (Ruskin Bond and Ganesh Saili’s Mussoorie and Landour: Days of Wine and Roses) mentioned that Dev Anand had owned that house, but not that Kalpana Karthik still lived there.

      Oh, and I had no idea Bina Rai was also a Landour resident at one time. Or that Chick Chocolate had a presence in Dehradun too!

      (By the way, that ‘salami‘ joke reminded me of Aaj ki raat mere dil ki salami le le – even though I knew, as a child, what it meant, I liked to think it was that salami! :-)

  2. What an interesting story Madhulika…there is a Chick Chocolate in Dehra Dun also, on Rajpur Road….probably owned by the same family…the Vachchanis…

  3. Oh! how I enjoyed reading this Madhu & yes My Siblings & I are all familiar with the name Chic Chocolate & yes He was also called ‘The Loui Armstrong’ of India Brings back many memories of His Songs & Music that I have danced to & Dance Halls that I have on in Bombay Thanks for sharing this Madhu Great Show!!!
    Told You that You are a Great Writer but You already know that anyway!

    • He must have been pretty big in Bombay when you were there, Edu! Wow, that must have been fantastic – imagine dancing to music like that. Even I, who can’t dance save my life, feel like dancing when I listen to his music!

  4. Oh, I’m pretty sure there is a connection, Madhu. The owner must have been inspired by Chic Chocolate playing in town. Pity the current owner didn’t seem to know the background behind the naming of his own restaurant – but I’m not surprised. Not everybody is into such things.

    In the absence of clear evidence to the contrary, we’re going to assume Chic Chocolate was the inspiration behind this restaurant. For all you know, he might even have played in that restaurant!

    • Yes, raja – it occurred to me too that Chic Chocolate may well have played at this restaurant! How fabulous would that have been? I’ve been listening to some of his playing yesterday – those fabulous audio clips on Naresh’s site, and on YouTube – and I wish I’d got a chance to hear him play live, Must have been simply unforgettable.

      • As far as I remember Chick chocolate didn’t have a restaurant, it was just a shop. Which made me think that this is a great proof that the name came from the person rather than what the shop sold (chicken and chocolate).

        From shop it progressed to selling snacks (salamis etc) and this restaurant by the side is a later addition, some time in 90s I think.

      • I remember Chic Chocolate from the ’60s. It wasn’t really a restaurant then – more of a food store. We were terribly excited when they put in a softy ice cream machine! Unlikely that the band played there…. Maybe at Hakmans or the Savoy

        • Thank you for sharing your memories of Chic Chocolate! Somehow the idea of a softy machine causing so much excitement reminds me of my own childhood, when something like that was certainly a cause for great rejoicing. :-)

    • Till the late 1970s, Chic Chocolate was half its present size until it took over the adjacent shop called Empire Stores. In the time of Chic Chocolate, the artiste, it sold only things like chocolates, biscuits, sweets, soft, etc…So I don’t see Chic Chocolate having performed there. The likely places for his performance would most likely be The Savoy Hotel and the Hakman’s Grand Hotel.

      • Thank you so much for that interesting information. I can imagine him having performed at a place like the Savoy (couldn’t visit it, or stay there when I visited Mussoorie, unfortunately – it was being renovated).

  5. Some people are devoid of sentiments, feelings and emotions. It is really amaging that all these days it did not occured to theowner of the restaurant to find out how the naming happen. It is great news that dev anand owned a house in Londour . Is he still owns it ?
    Thank you so much DO

    • I don’t think it’s a question of being devoid of sentiment or emotion, maybe just a little low on curiosity. Plus, I have to admit that even I wouldn’t have seen the significance of the name if it hadn’t been for my love of Hindi films.

      In her comment, pacifist suggests that the house in Sisters Bazaar is still owned by Dev Anand’s family – Kalpana Karthik lives there.

      • I may be mistaken about that DO. I know that KK used to stay there (with Dev in Bombay) and was very involved with religious activities at Woodstock, running stalls etc on their Fair days. That she may have left now, and it says so in the book, it’s the fact. Since I’m so far from the situation, and not really discussing it with friends, I don’t know what may have developed since I came away.

        • Ah, okay. Though Sidharth Bhatia mentioned (on Facebook) that Dev Anand’s daughter still lives there. So it seems the property is still owned by the family. I’d think Sidharth would certainly know, since he did a lot of research on the Anands for his book.

  6. WOW! What a truly great story! That is so exciting and interesting, I hope that you’ll be able to crack the puzzle and let us all know. Surely the odds of it being just a coincidence are too high, though? It’s such a distinctive name, and for the cafe to bear the name in a town where he played, I’m thinking you MUST be on to something. Muzaffar would be proud of you!! Also, I love the way you keep turning up other connections – now I know so much about the man behind my favourite Talat song Aa teri tasveer bana loon.
    With wonderful escapades like this, you clearly have an obligation to go on holiday more often, turning up serendipitous connections to share. :)

    • Well, Naresh Fernandes seems to think that the chances of the cafe being named after Chic Chocolate are pretty high. I guess it can’t be really confirmed unless someone who was there back then in the 40s is able to say yes or no – but it does sound so delightful.

      Incidentally, another restaurant chain that has a film music connect: Bhojohori Manna, which serves fabulous Bengali food and is named for a filmi chef who went about collecting recipes… playback sung by Manna Dey, of course.

    • Anything with an old Hindi cinema connect is enticing, right? ;-)

      I remember you mentioned Chic Chocolate in one of our recent conversations, Anu – I’ve forgotten in what context, but I recall we were discussing him.

    • Anu, you’re welcome. I’m having a hard time controlling myself from spamming DO’s blog reminiscing away.
      I did do that to some extent on her pictures of Mussoorie :-/

      • Spam away, pacifist! :-D

        And it’s not spam, by the way. Spam is unwanted messages. Yours are delightful, informative – and always welcome. Whether here on my blog, or on Facebook.

    • Naresh, thank you so much for writing that book! I haven’t read your book yet, but from the snippets I read here and there online, it sounds like something I really need to add to my reading list soon.

      P.S. An odd coincidence. I got a mail from Peter Griffin, from Forbes, regarding micro fiction. He linked to the ‘stories’ that had been done by various writers – including you – and I simply loved the one you wrote: “The jazzman died before his time. too much sax and violins.”

      Absolutely brilliant! My favourite of the lot.

  7. madhu ji,

    CHICK CHOCOLATE or A.X.Vaaz was a very good assistant to not only C.Ramchandra,and madan Mohan( where he was loaned by C.Ramchandra for this film ,to MM),but he also worked with O.P.Nayyar and Khayyam(Akhri khat) as well.
    Though he gave music to 3 films,in all these films he was not alone.In Naadan and Rangeeli,C.Ramchandra worked as “Music Supervisor” and in Kar Bhala,he shared credits with another great Nissar Bazmi(who late became a legend in Pakistan).
    In early C.R. films,one can clearly feel the tinge of Goan folk tunes in almost all hit songs.This was Vaaz’s contribution.
    In those days most((95%) arrangers in Hindi films were from Goa.This was because they were experts in making,writing and reading musical notes.This one art/expertise,very few others had.One prominent name was Ganesh who was also an expert in notations.
    Vaaz worked as arranger with OP Nayyar and Khayyam.
    He died at 55,in Bombay in 1967.

    • Thank you for the additional information, Arunji! (I have mentioned some of it in the post, including the contributions of musicians like Vaz in arrangements of compostions).

      Incidentally, I read that the music for those jazz pieces I’d linked to on Youtube was also composed by Khayyam – it was an album titled A Remembrance.

  8. Madhu ji,
    Mussoorie,the queen of Hills,is a fantastic place to visit.I had visited it somewhere in 1971 or 72,in the month of February.That was the first time.It was so cold that time of the year.Being from Bombay(having the most dirty humid weather round the year),we felt the shivers more.
    It was a small cosy place with hardly any people seen on the roads after say 5 or 6 pm.The mall was our attraction.
    We had gone there for our company conference.While roaming on the Mall,we found a Board on a shop- ‘ Get a coat stitched to your size in 24 hours.’ We were simply awed.many of us,including me,got coats stitched there.Can you guess what must have been the cost in those days ? JUST 65 RUPEES PER COAT,inclu. of woolen and stitching charges ! Sounds unbelievable today !
    Later I visited Mussoorie in the late 80s and also last visit was in 2005.It was too much !
    I decided not to visit it anymore and enjoy my first visit memories,instead !!

    • >It was a small cosy place with hardly any people seen on the roads

      This reminds me of a funny/interesting incident. We used to leave Mussoorie for 3 months in December.
      Once in December, sitting in one of the few restaurants still open we saw 3/4 friends talking together on the street down below.
      My friend exclaimed ‘arre, wahan bheed kyon jama hai?’
      She meant this in earnest, because it was a rare sight.
      Only when we realised the implication of this remark did we burst out laughing.

    • “Mussoorie,the queen of Hills,is a fantastic place to visit.

      Was, Arunji, not is. It has improved considerably (since the 80s, when I’d visited last) because of afforestation, but the proliferation of hotels and the terrible commercialisation of the town makes it pretty hard to bear – especially in peak season. But Landour, I agree, is a far lovelier place, so much quieter and more charmingly old-fashioned.

  9. Thanks for such a vivacious narrative about one more back-end corner stone of Hindi Film Music. To come to know that all those songs that I simply liked has such a great legacy of composition.
    And Bonus was the link to ‘short-short-stories’.
    We wish that where ever you happen to go, you land upon such ‘discoveries’ these reveries moments of the past, so that we get a rich, dusted off, fare in the present.

    • Thank you! I think the Muse of cinema (if there’s one – perhaps Thalia and Melpomene, combined?) were watching over me. Whatever it was, as soon as I saw Chick Chocolate, I knew here was a chance to share something interesting.

      I love the ‘short-short-stories’ concept, too. And such a coincidence that that link should arrive in my mailbox just after I’d published this post…

  10. Ooooh! You went to Mussoorie! I wish I could live in India! :D Asha Parekh went to Mussoorie in Teesri Manzil too! And Dehradun! I want to live in India! :D

    I actually didn’t know who Chic Chocolate was until you posted this, so thanks. :D

  11. We were in Landour from the 22nd to the 25th morning of this month. Stayed in Devdar Woods, which is a stone’s throw away from Sisters Bazaar.

    As per the caretaker, Mr Joshi, Dev Anand’s daughter Devina lives in the brick coloured house behind Prakash Stores of Sisters Bazaar.

    Moments after we reached Landour in the afternoon of the 22nd, we met Mr Ruskin Bond with Mr Shekhar Gupta, who was conducting the Walk The Talk interview for NDTV on the road leading from Sisters Bazaar to Chaar Dukaan.

    On Dusshera, we visited on prior appointment Mr Bond at his Ivy Cottage residence, which is nestled behind Doma’s Inn.

    Also met Mr Tenzing Nima aka Tashi of Vishal Bhardwaj’s Kaminey : The Scoundrels (2009) fame near his restaurant – Doma’s Inn (named after his mother, who incidentally has starred in Bertolucci’s magnum opus Little Budha).

    We missed Mr Victor Banerjee, as he left for Dehra Dun for the Astami Bhog of Durga Puja.

    A fellow guest in Devdar Woods from Gurgaon, Mr Rohit Aggarwal told us he saw Tom Alter in a track suit, enjoying his evening walk in Landour.

  12. Some of Chic Chocolates memorable Trumpet pieces are as follows
    1.Aji rooth kar ab-Film AARZOO
    2.Hai apna dil to awaara-Film SOLVA SAAL
    3.Bedardi baalma tujhko-Film AARZOO
    4.Mud mud ke na dekh mud mud ke-Film SHRI 420
    5.Aaj kal tere mere pyaar ke charche-Film BRAHMCHARI

    • Thank you, Papa! Those are some of my favourite songs. Brahmachari must have been among the last films he recorded for, because he passed away in 1967, shortly after Aakhri Khat (in which he had played in Rut jawaan jawaan).

  13. The restaurant was set up in 1940.

    Biography says he had played in mussoorie by mid 40s.

    It is also possible that he got the inspiration for his name Chic Chocolate from this restaurant and not other way around.

    • You make a good point. Nobody’s suggested that yet, though I can see that it could be possible!
      But I recall reading on the Taj Mahal Foxtrot web site (or that article I’d linked to, I’ve forgotten which) that ‘Chic’, at least, was a pet name his mother used to use for him since his childhood. I wonder…

  14. Dear Dimps,
    If you watch AAKHRI KHAT you will notice that a lot of the background music consists of Chick Chocolate’s trumpet.I wonder whether he played the trumpet in “Zindagi kaisi hai paheli” from ANAND. The style is his ,no doubt ;but as far as I remember the film was released much later.Love,Papa

    • The trumpet in Zindagi kaisi hai paheli is indeed fantastic. But Anand was released in 1971, so it may have been someone else who played the trumpet in Chic Chocolate’s style.

      • While we are on Aakhri Khat it was nice to see so many rare film industry appearances in that one song: Chic Chocolate, of course, playing the trumpet. Bhupendra playing the guitar and lip synch-ing his own song, Leela Chitnis’s son Manvendra Chitnis playing the inspector and finally Naqi Jehan (daughter of yesteryear actors Pramila and Kumar) playing the lead lady. Both Manvendra and Naqi acted in one more film each before they left the industry. Manvendra went to US while Naqi Jehan settled down as Mrs Nandini Kamdar.

        • I knew about Chic Chocolate and Bhupendra (who also appears in Hoke majboor mujhe in Haqeeqat, by the way), but not about the others. Thank you for that bit of trivia – especially about Manvendra Chitnis. I didn’t know Leela Chitnis had a son who’d appeared in films.

          • Manvendra also played the lead in Govind Saraiya’s Priya opposite Tanuja. He was named after the noted Indian nationalist revolutionary and an internationally known radical activist and political theorist Manvendra Nath Roy (M N Roy) since his father Dr Gajanan Chitnis, also a freedom fighter, was a great friend of M N Roy. Roy’s followers came to be known as Royists.

  15. If you like trivia here is more of it for you: Naqi Jehan’s younger brother Hyder Ali was also an actor who started with Mahedsh Bhatt’s Saraansh but came to prominence with Nukkad and Circus. He acted in several films and then turned writer. He wrote the story and screenplay (with Ashutosh Gowarikar) of the recent film Jodha Akbar. :-)

    • I have seen Nukkad and Saaraansh (and, checking Hyder Ali’s filmography, I can spot some other films that I’ve seen too), but I just can’t put a face to the man. But if he wrote the story and screenplay for Jodha Akbar, he has my vote. :-)

  16. @dusted off
    I was going through Ashok Vaishnavji’s latest posting at SoY. He had referred to the song ‘Aa teri tasveee bana loon’ and provided the link to your site/ posting on Chic Chocolate. Thank you for the information on the little known master Chic Chocolate. I enjoyed the style and content. Also the write up by Naresh Fernandes was also good and wish to read his book soon although it is steeply priced. Hope to visit your site again for more such treasures.Thank you once again for sharing your trip to Mussoorie. It provided me with a ‘Manas Vraman.

  17. “(Can anybody pinpoint any other film songs where the trumpet is Chic Chocolate’s? I’d love to know!)”

    You mentioned Shola Jo Bhadke from Albela as featuring his trumpet. In a comment to a different song from that same film I learned that not only does he play trumpet, but we also see him ‘playing’ in this song:

    • Thank you, Tom! I’d heard that Chic Chocolate could be seen in Shola jo bhadke, but hadn’t been able to spot him there. Apparently somebody had got things muddled up, and Deewaana parwaana was the song meant.

      Coincidentally, only yesterday, I discovered another film for which Chic Chocolate was the assistant music director (to C Ramachandra): Sagaai, starring Premnath and Rehana.

    • I wonder… but I don’t know. He doesn’t look much like the man in Rut jawaan-jawaan (who is Chic Chocolate, for sure). This man looks rather like the guy who was in Hai duniya usi ki, but with a moustache here:

    • pacifist, that trumpeter in the Jaali Note song is the choreographer Surya Kumar who often shows up in the songs in which he works.

  18. While doing my usual round of ‘discovering songs’ on youtube, I came across a film Nadaan 1951. It seems Chic Chocolate was the MD of that film!
    Here’s a song from that film.

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