Ta Ra Rum Pum

2007, Movie, NR, 156 mins


Bollywood meets NASCAR in Siddharth Anand's musical comedy drama about the rise and fall of a hot-shot driver.

Happy-go-lucky New York Speedway pit-crew flunky Rajveer Singh (Saif Ali Khan ) and well-born music student Radhika (Rani Mukerji) meet after he bribes a cabbie to let him take the wheel — Rajveer's always running late. Too bad poor Radhika picked this moment to get into the back seat; she's treated to a hair-raising and geographically improbable drive that starts at Herald Square and arrives at 50th Street, less than three-quarters of a mile north, by way of the 135th Street viaduct. Radhika huffs off, but fate's wheels are spinning: Hack Harry (Jaaved Jaffrey) just happens to manage a failing NASCAR team called Speeding Saddles ("Whenever a dream is shattered in New York, another cabbie is born," he muses ruefully) and offers Rajveer a spot, while Radhika serendipitously crosses the smitten Rajveer's path twice in the next 24 hours.

By the time the newly renamed "RV" aces his first race, he and Radhika, whom he dubs Shona ("sweet" in Bengali), are clearly headed for happily-ever-aftering. Her wealthy father (Victor Banerjee) objects — he doesn't want his brainy, level-headed daughter marrying some feckless, uneducated racer. But over the course of eight heady years the happy couple has two adorable children (Angelina Idnani, Ali Haji) and RV skyrockets to the top of the NASCAR heap. As always, he spends money as fast as he makes it, going deep into debt so the kids can attend expensive private school and Radhika can have the best of everything. Laid up for a year after unscrupulous driver Rusty (Ken Thompson) deliberately causes a near-fatal mid-race crash, RV is on the verge of bankruptcy. When his comeback fizzles — RV's nerves are shattered — heartless team-owner Billy Bhatia (Bharat Dabholkar) fires him and the family is forced to sell everything and move to a slum. Radhika and RV tell the children they're only pretending to be poor so they can win a reality show called "Don't Worry, Be Happy," but RV and Radhika are hard put to keep smiling as they work long hours at demeaning jobs and keep falling further behind. Maybe Radhika's father was right — love doesn't pay the rent.

American auto-stunt specialist Steve Kelso engineered the surprisingly good race sequences that alternate with the standard Bollywood mix of heartbreak and humor — there's even a saccharine dance sequence in which the Singhs are joined by four cartoon bears. The "cute" kids are insufferable, but leads Ali Khan and Mukerji radiate the unabashed star quality that's all but gone from American movies — poverty and desperation haven't looked so glamorous since the glory days of Joan Crawford. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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