Dharmendra chose well for his nephew Abhay Deol’s debut film, Socha Na Tha [I Never Imagined]. He picked the talented director Imtiaz Ali who gave the falling-in-love-with-the girl-your-parents-picked-for-you Indian romance a fresh modern feel. This was Imtiaz Ali’s first film, after directing in television. Socha Na Tha was not a commercial success, but it gained critical praise at the time, and he followed it with Jab We Met, one of the all time favorite Hindi romance films.
Abhay plays Viren, a young man who has returned to India from University in the US, but has not started work yet. His family despairs of him growing up, and his father puts his foot down. He’s 24, and it’s time he was married. He agrees to meet a girl his family chooses, but he has a secret romance with a Christian girl, Karen. He’s on the verge of proposing to Karen.
Viren and Aditi (Ayesha Takia) first meet at her family home. Ayesha is absolutely adorable. She explains to him that she doesn’t want to get married either, but he has to be the one to refuse her, as she can’t. Once they get that out of the way, they have a wonderful easy conversation. From the little we’ve seen of Viren’s interactions with Karen, he has a rapport with Aditi immediately and an ease that he doesn’t with his years long girlfriend Karen.
When Viren refuses Aditi as a potential bride, the families grow hostile to one another, as Aditi’s family feels Viren led her on. They meet by chance in a mall, and he explains asks for her help in convincing his girlfriend’s parents to let her go on a holiday trip to Goa. Aditi tells her parents that Karen is attending her wedding, and Karen tells hers the opposite. But Karen joins the party a few days late. Viren and Aditi spend lots of time together and grow closer and friendlier. When Karen arrives, she senses what’s happening. Aditi and Viren spend one whole night talking and fall asleep together on the beach.
Once they return, Viren does propose to Karen but his family is opposed to him marrying a Christian. He’s convinced it will never be resolved and meanwhile is obsessing over video he took of Aditi in Goa. He goes to see Aditi, and almost Romeo like sneaks up her balcony into her room. What comes next is one of the most romantic scenes I’ve ever seen in Hindi film. It’s not that Abhay is such a great actor at this early point in his career. It’s all Imtiaz Ali’s skill in directing this scene. It’s become one of my all time favorites.
Viren says to Aditi, “I thought I was in love with Karen. But if that was love—what is this?”
Things become a tangled mess for Abhay, as his parents suddenly agree to his marriage with Karen and now he’s stuck.
The last part of the film is hard to watch because Viren is so indecisive and takes a long time to tell people what he wants to do with his life. He doesn’t want to disappoint his family, and can’t figure a way out. He needs to grow up, and so does Aditi.
Margaret at Don’t Call It Bollywood gives a great analysis of Socha Na Tha and how it reaffirms arranged marriage. Because in the end, this film is showing that the best partner is the one your family chose for you. That they know you best. It was her post that led me to buying this film and watching it. I’m so glad I did. I loved it and how natural and modern Imtiaz Ali made this story feel. Abhay Deol was fantastic in this even if I wanted to wring his neck at several points. Ayesha Takia was wonderful, and I liked how Karen (Apoorva Jha) wasn’t a stereotypical evil ex. She is actually instrumental in getting Viren and Aditi back together. Even the stern father, we see really loves Viren, and has good reason for wanting his son to grow up already. (Since I have a son about the same age who is finding himself, I can relate, much more than I want to.)
Four and a half stars out of five. Imtiaz, please give us more great romances like Socha Na Tha and Jab We Met with these great real characters!