Sunday ReRun: Socha Na Tha, Imtiaz Ali’s First Great Romance

I wrote this review a long long time ago, and it isn’t as good as the film deserves. So I did quite a bit of rewriting before reposting it, fun for those of you who remember the original post! There’s still something new for you!

Socha Na Tha was produced by Dharmendra in order to launch his nephew, Abhay.  Part of it’s greatness is what a wonderful launch movie it is.  Small, unassuming, no big expectations (unlike, say, Refugee and Abhishek/Kareena), a nice sort of dip your toe in the water kind of production, not a leap in feet first to a career one.

Plus, Abhay’s character is really perfect for Abhay.  Young and innocent, taking advantage of his fresh-faced first-film vibe.  But also urban, westernized, wealthy, thinks he’s cooler than he is.  Which matches with Abhay himself, as we have come to know him in the years since.  This is more of an artsy artistic intelligent films kind of guy, not a big blockbuster type.

And he’s supported by an excellent-but-not-too-excellent cast.  That’s one of the (few) problems with Kaho Na Pyar Hai.  It was an perfect showcase for Hrithik, but whenever he wasn’t onscreen and you were stuck with overly emoting, poorly styled, and badly scripted Amisha, your attention wandered.  Definitely not a problem here, Ayesha is adorable, and the rest of the cast is rounded out by character acting stalwarts from Suresh Oboroi (Viviek’s Dad! and he plays Abhay’s Dad in this) to Sandhya Mridul (Rani’s sister in Saathiya, Ayesha’s sister in this).  But at the same time, the supporting cast is carefully modulated not to over-shadow Abhay, no issues like Rani Mukherjee being the best part of Saawariya here.

Finally, it’s not a very original movie.  I mean, it is, in ways I will describe in a second, but not in any ways that the audience would find notable or threatening.  It’s a nice sweet little romance, that’s it.  No big political statements or aesthetic challenges or anything like that.  Good songs, pretty costumes, location shoot in Goa, and it ends with a wedding, as all movies should.

I give the credit for most of this to Dharmendra.  Basically, he only produces launch films, for all those various Doel relatives he wants to start out right.  And this was his 3rd hit launch film, after launching Sunny in Betaab and Bobby in Barsaat.  So he knows how to pick a good launch film and tailor it to the needs of the particular launchee.

But he also picked a really good first time writer/director.  What Imtiaz does with this film is really brilliant, interrogating the very underpinnings of the Indian romance.  Or rather, re-affirming them.

This movie has a whole greater depth for me after watching Jab Harry Met Sejal, where he takes similar ideas and expands on them. It’s not a love story of romance and fantasy. It’s a love story of soulmates, something between them that just clicks in to place at a first meeting. It doesn’t fit the usual plot, or any kind of plot really, because it’s not about a couple falling in love. It’s about a couple being in love so deeply right from the start that they don’t even realize it themselves, it’s about a couple waking up to being in love.

And because of that, there is never any question that they will be together at the end of the film. Indian film loves to give us the separated lovers, the ones who marry other people and move on but always have that little sadness inside. Imtiaz rejects that idea. In an Imtiaz movie, either it is real love and true love and the lovers fight for it and for each other and are happy. Or they fight and lose, and are forever sad. There is no compromise, because the kind of love he wants to show does not allow for compromise.

That’s why the most famous and successful song of the film is a reimagining of the title song from Kabhi Kabhi. “Kabhi Kabhi” means “someday”. “Abhi Abhi” means “now”. these are not lovers and this is not a love that can or will wait on a “someday”. The lovers of those older films who found happiness in marriage, what they had was not really true love, it was romance and excitement, but it was transitory. Imtiaz, right from his first movie, shows the difference between the love of the college girlfriend-boyfriend, the typical pattern of love that we usually see, and the kind of real love that does not fit within any kind of pattern.

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

The situation in the first half of this film is basically the second half of a traditional romance.  Our hero, Abhay, is in love with a Christian girl.  In a normal movie, the first half would be their first meeting and love story and so on.  But in this case, we are just dropped into the end of it, the post-interval part when he has returned from his studies abroad and is ready to marry.  He wants to marry her, she wants to marry him, but he knows his family won’t approve.  But while he is working up his nerve to talk to his father, his family arranges for him to “meet” Ayesha, a nice girl from a nice family who they want him to marry.  Love triangle!

Except, not really.  Because the movie questions our understanding of what “love” really is.  Is love the girl he’s been dating since high school, who he writes songs about, who he moons over to all his friends?

Or is it the one who he just really likes talking to?  Who inspires him to be a better person?  Who he inspires to feel comfortable in her own skin and let loose a little?

And is love something you can find in a moment, something that leads to big dramatic pronouncements and realizations, or is it something that sneaks up on you?  That changes you without you even realizing it?  That makes you feel like you and one other person are all that matters in the world?

The big movement of the film isn’t that the characters fall in and out of love, it’s that they realize love isn’t what they thought it was.  He doesn’t want to marry his girlfriend, not just because he is in love with Ayesha, but because he knows what they had together wasn’t right.  And in the end, she realizes it too.  That’s another thing I love about this movie, there are no “evil” characters.  His girlfriend was in love with him, she wanted to marry him, but months later, after everything’s blown over, she realizes that he didn’t feel the same way, and it was better to have her heartbroken than be part of a broken marriage.

Beyond realizing what love is, they also need to grow into different, better, people before they deserve love.  Abhay figures out what he wants, and then goes about getting it in the most selfish cowardly way possible.  Yes, he and Ayesha are truly in love, but that doesn’t give them the right to ignore the needs of others.  Which is why he is left heartbroken, dreaming of her, instead of getting to be with her

And at the same time, Ayesha is coming to a different realization.  That her perfectly nice groom, the guy she used to date in college, isn’t the one she wants.  That she can go through with the marriage and make her family happy, but she will be miserable all her life and it isn’t worth.  She deserves to be selfish, in the end it is better that way.

Something else that was different about Imtiaz’s romances, right from the start, he treated his heroines with equal seriousness to how he treated his heroes. Abhay gets more screentime (it is his launch film, after all), but Ayesha has a real backstory and reasons for what she does, instead of being the simple “good girl” type. Her parents died and she was raised by her aunt and uncle, giving her a feeling of obligation towards them. And her older cousin-sister is back home and going through a divorce, giving Ayesha a sense that she has to make everyone happy, she has to be the “good” daughter with the happy ending to distract them from the difficulties of the divorce.

What I really love is that we see enough of Ayesha’s family to know this is both all in her head, and a little bit real. Her parents love her and make no difference in their love for their niece-daughter and their other daughter, it is Ayesha who brings it up all the time. At the same time, the family is stressed and on edge about her sister’s divorce, she is right in that. And she is right that a happy successful marriage for her will make them all feel better. Her elopement at the end is ultimately the best thing because she is both right and wrong. She is wrong that her family is ashamed of her, or needs her to always do the right thing or they will stop loving her. But she is right that the greatest gift she can give for family happiness is to marry happily. Better to elope with the man she loves and will always be happy with, than marry the “proper” man and never really be happy.

Abhay gets his own backstory and motivation. It’s not just about being in love with his girlfriend and wanting to marry her. There is a reason for that, for everything. He is the younger brother, the one who suffers from both high and low expectations from his family. They have let him run wild for years, but with the unspoken expectation that he will get married and settle down and work hard once his playtime is over. Abhay struggles with that, struggles to extend his time of freedom and joy, and thinks that marrying his girlfriend will somehow make that freedom permanent, be a little bit of “himself” that he can take into this strict world of adulthood. But instead what he discovers is that love for Ayesha isn’t a bit of a childhood he can bring into the adult world, it inspires him to join the adult world, to stop rebelling and understand his place in the greater scheme of things. He works hard and enjoys the work and is proud of the work. His elopement is his last moment of rebellion, and his family accepts it, accepts him, stops badgering him to be perfect and appreciates that he is trying his best and growing up on his own.

Now, here’s what makes this film really interesting, instead of just very well-made.  Strip out all the bells and whistles, and this is a story that justifies arranged marriages.  Both Ayesha and Abhay had relationships with people they found on their own.  And they convinced their families to agree to turn those relationships into marriage.  And it would have been the worst thing possible for them.

They didn’t need someone they had fun with, someone they went clubbing with and partied with, they needed someone they could build a life with.  Someone who had the same values, way of thinking, interests.  And at the same time, was different enough to challenge them, to balance them.  Basically, what your parents look for in an arranged marriage!

It’s a clever twist at the end, that Ayesha suggests they elope-but-not-elope.  Because they know their families approve of the relationship, it would just be getting through the wedding that would be tricky (after two broken engagements and so on).  But it’s also an awareness that they are marrying now with their families’ blessings (unspoken though they may be).

Strip out all of the twists and turns and complications, and his family wanted him to get married so he would grow up and hers wanted her to marry so she would be happy.  They arranged the meeting, and six months later, here they are, married, and grown-up and happy (respectively).

And that’s why “Abhi Abhi” is the big break out hit of the film.  Because it is clearly based on “Kabhi Kabhi” from the film of the same name.  In which Amitabh gives up his true love, Raakhi, so she can marry the man her parents have chosen for her, awesome Shashi.  20 years later, they meet again.  And it is sad, but it is also good.  They are both with other people now, happy(ish) in their new marriages.  Maybe in the 70s it would have been a clean break, no backward looks, your parents forced you apart.  But in the 2000s it is left up to the couple to come to the realization on their own, that the college romance is shallow and empty, that a marriage requires so much more, that it is better to be with nice reliable cheerful Shashi Kapoor than dreamy and dramatic Amitabh.  Or, in this case, with cheerful Ayesha who makes you happy than with brittle Apoorva Jha.

20 thoughts on “Sunday ReRun: Socha Na Tha, Imtiaz Ali’s First Great Romance

  1. Yes, I made it, I finally watched this film and that also on Imtiaz’s birthday! Only few days ago I saw the newest movie he wrote (Laila-Majnu), and now his first film. And it’s great because I noticed some things otherwise I wouldn’t notice, like this love for the mountains. There is a scene in Laila-Majnu, when Qais, almost crazy run to the mountains, and starts screaming. And there is a similar scene also in Socha Na Tha, but with Abhay and Ayesha. And in the end, when they elope they go to the mountains because they can be free there. Really Imtiaz must love the mountains very much.

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    • I am so happy you made it!

      I heard a story once, possibly not true, that it was filming Socha Na Tha where Imtiaz fell in love with the mountains. The song was just because he thought it would be a cool different place to film, and then he fell in love with it and put a mountain scene in all his movies.

      On Sun, Jun 16, 2019 at 4:10 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. I remember desi proto-hipsters circa 2006, the kind who are too cool to watch Indian film, raving about this little known find called Socha na tha, this brand new director Imtiaz Ali, and new “alterna-Dheol” Abhay. The movie has a very Dil Chahta Hai fresh modern indie youth-generation vibe to it, so no wonder it appealed to the proto-hipsters.

    It’s become an aftermarket cult hit, and many think this this Imtiaz’s best film.

    When I first watched it, I was first put off by Abhay and especially Ayesha, because both just looked like they were reading their lines and playing themselves on-screen. There are even pauses where it looks like the actor is being cued to say his/her lines.

    As you said, it’s better upon rewatch, once you can get past the bugs and ticks. It is cute how they are instantly drawn to each other, almost immediately holding hands, probably because neither has any skin in the game yet.

    Imtiaz loves the film Junoon, and I think he’s kind of rethinking and rebooting Junoon with every film.

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    • That’s interesting, I was in college in 2006, and I heard about Socha Na Tha not from proto-hipsters, but from good little college girls who had seen it with their parents over the weekend and loved it. It was such a sweet little romance, and so rewatchable, that they loved it without thinking deeply about it.

      I didn’t know about Imtiaz and Junoon. Huh. That gives me a whole new way to think about his films. Especially his treatment of the female side of the romance, Junoon’s heroine seems so empty, but at the end when she learns Shashi is lost, she is crazed with grief.

      On Sun, Jun 16, 2019 at 5:04 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  3. I like this film and Jab We Met but man this guy is so repetative. The mountain love which Angie mentioned above is there in all of his films.So is the lost,caged hero who has to take the magical self realisation trip with the manic pixie girl. No wonder he is a favorite among the multiplex frequenting males of a certain age group who connect so strongly with the angsty hero who is actually doing pretty well for himself.It also helps that Imtiaz Ali looks the part of the hippie handsome intellectual director.I will never forgive him for replacing Diana Penty in Rockstar with Nargis Fakri.

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    • Diana Penty would have been so much better! And she would have the career she deserves now instead of struggling to get noticed in interesting little movies.

      On Sun, Jun 16, 2019 at 9:40 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  4. Things I liked in this film:
    – Ayesha. She is so naturally charming. I was in love with her from the first scenes and wanted all the best for her. Abhay was nice too but without Ayesha, in my opinion, this movie would be much worse. She was perfect.
    – the scene when Abhay and his dad make peace. It was very touching, much more than romantic scenes. For some reason I love those “the hero doesn’t understand his parents are not bad, but just want him to grow up, and be better man” plots.
    – Karen’s parents introduction scene. It was said so many times she is christian, but for those who missed it, the parents are shown with giant Jesus painting behind them, hundred candles and church music in the background 😉

    Things I didn’t like
    -THE SOUNDTRACK. There was a new song every 5 minutes but for me, it all sounded like one the same super boring song. And half of them are Sonu Nigam songs! I love him but even his voice couldn’t make the music interesting. And the song Zindagi? And still have goosebumps when I think about Sunidhi Chauhan’s squealing voice.

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    • I love the soundtrack! Now you are making me question all my taste. Maybe it’s because I love it in isolation? One song at a time? They are all pretty similar.

      Agree about Ayesha. She has this movie and Dor, and otherwise was never really given anything challenging. Or maybe was never interested in a challenge? Anyway, after seeing this film, I was more excited about her than Abhay too, and then Abhay ended up having by far the better and more interesting career.

      On Mon, Jun 17, 2019 at 3:04 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Yes, maybe it’s because you listen to the songs separately. Or maybe because you watched the movie years ago. For me, it was the first time, and I found the music very outdated. Especially because I have Laila-Manju music in my head.

        And for Ayesha please watch Mod, if you will find it somewhere. I loved this movie.

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  5. Yeah, that’s the first I thought a while into the movie, that Abhay and his role Viren are a very good match (Ayesha, too, I found matching…and both together really cute). I think, Abhey’s two years in an Californian actor’s school were a good preparation.

    I like your line “it’s about a couple waking up to being in love”. We as the audience quite immediately know that they are made for each other, for Viren and Aditi, it really takes some time to see it as the love for living a life together. (Oh, oh, soooo often JHMS came into my mind!…be it because of similarities in both movies or because of opposites)

    I got the feeling that Imtiaz wanted to make clear from the very beginning, that Karin-Viren isn’t the couple where both hearts beats in harmony. Viren only starts to think about the different religions when he looks for a way out of the (rather) forced commitment (during the Goa trip…it is a pain to watch him searching for a way to please Karin). Neither he nor Karin even touch the topic of marriage to each other before (Viren’s hesitation to talk about serious things to Karin underlined his immaturity – against Karin’s maturity).

    Yes, nobody is “evil”…the family members are understandable in their behaviour…we get an expanded background through all those family members…Viren’s friend almost vanishes in view of both the families (I think that Mayank was a more important character in JHMS as Shiva is here).

    For me it isn’t really an elopement (they marry later, after the journey, at home); they just made clear that they wanted some time only for them far away from both the families giving also time to the elders to mend their differences. It’s a rather mature move to not hurry anything but give everybody time to settle in the old/new arrangement. The film is giving arranged marriages a serious chance…maybe the wise people asked to look for a match aren’t all fake 😉

    I could write an essay about the correlations between Imtiaz first movie and JHMS (a kind of ‘closure’ of a circle)…I’m really curious what shape his movie with Karthik, Sara and Randeep will have…

    I haven’t watched (yet) neither Laila-Majnu (einthusan onla has it without subs) nor Junoon…

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    • Ha! Just got aware that I already had watched Junoon…but honestly I don’t see reasons how this movie could have influenced Imtiaz own scripts…

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      • I think it is in that strange unspoken connection between two unlikely characters. Highway in particular is very similar in the central couple.

        On Mon, Jun 17, 2019 at 11:07 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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        • Good point (especially for Highway…really very unlikely).

          Btw, it was partly for the woman protagonist that I did not finish Rockstar (very rare for me not to finish a movie).

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          • Yeah, I never even tried Rockstar because the plot turned me off so much. I’ll watch it eventually, and maybe end up loving it. I did watch Tamasha, and that heroine character was terribly underwritten.

            On Mon, Jun 17, 2019 at 2:17 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • Yep…I wondered if Imtiaz still was “blinded” by Ranbir… from all his romantic movies Tamasha was the less balanced, imo, respective to male-female interests. But it had great scenes.

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          • It’s interesting, he made movies with Saif and Shahrukh as leads, opposite Dips and Anushka, much more unbalanced than Ranbir and Deepika in terms of star power. And his very first movie was supposed to be a launch film for Abhay. And yet those films don’t feel as star focused and slanted towards one character as Tamasha.

            On Mon, Jun 17, 2019 at 2:38 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • I just rewatched the first meeting scene to see if it was as cute as I remembered, and it was! And they both have lines like “I’ve never told anyone that before, I feel like I could tell you anything”. And yet, they don’t see that as meaning they are in love, because love is supposed to be romantic and difficult, not just “fitting” together on a first meeting.

      I was also thinking about JHMS and your three theory. It’s the same in this movie, they have three meetings in her bedroom, each important. The first meeting, the second meeting when he climbs to her balcony and they confess their love, and the third meeting when he attempts the failed elopement. Marriage-love-marriage. There are also three marriage meetings, that first meeting, then the failed elopement, and then the real elopement.

      And like JHMS, he has the idea of love meaning you are drawn to each other to the point of blindly following. I love that ending when he never agrees to the elopement, but instead just follows her out of the building and into a taxi because he can’t NOT follow her.

      One thing that I found a big difference from JHMS (and gets back to your point about Mayank being a more important character) is that there is nothing really wrong with their family relationships. Ayesha feels like she has to please her family and they only care about her so long as she does not embarrass them, but that is wrong. And Abhay feels like he has permenantly let down his family and can’t bridge the distance, and that is wrong too. In JHMS, it was a matter of accepting the reality and breaking free to build their new family (with Mayank as Shahrukh’s family not just a friend). But in this movie, it was about realizing that their families loved them unconditionally and they could stop trying to please them, or rebel from them, and simply focus on what made them happy knowing that their families would accept that.

      On Mon, Jun 17, 2019 at 10:24 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • I’m not so sure about the “unconditional love” thing…the nice plot point was that they indeed followed the wishes of both the families.
        In JHMS, we get the opposite, the interests of the families weren’t involved in their falling in love…the wishes & uncertainties were focussed on Sejal and Harry (the ring quickly became an obvious pretexte to keep being together).
        And while Virin and Aditi made their long journey after having committed to their love and fell in love during a trip, in JHMS the repetition of a journey under different circumstances was the catalyst for their love. (I could go on and on and on with my comparisons…so many… )

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  6. I liked everything about the film except skinny, charmless Karin and the gimmicky “wait until your wedding day to change your mind and run off” scene. It’s been done to death; the mendhied bride in all her finery jumping up and skeedaddling while everybody goes “ohhh, ahhh.” I would rather that after successful business man Abhay tells her he won’t elope, he slogs through his job feeling empty, realizes what a chump he’s being, barges through all the night-before wedding prep at her house, and attempts to drag her off. This time, it’s she who says no and keeps saying it as she gets in his car and off they go.

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    • I agree the last minute thing was silly, but I think in this case they were going for the maximum drama on purpose. Ayesha was always such a good girl, trying to do the right thing and make her family happy, she needed to learn that all they wanted was her happiness, no matter the cost. And she had to be the one to make the decision to elope for the same reason.

      On Tue, Jun 18, 2019 at 9:46 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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