Call me hardhearted but I just don’t care for cute kids who try too hard to ingratiate themselves to an audience. Cars – for any purpose other than the utilitarian, also leave me cold. So the combination of kids and car racing in Siddharth Anand’s Ta Ra Rum Pum did not hold much promise. It doesn’t seem right to judge a film on the basis of a few promos so I took in a session and can now report that it is an ambling family drama which invariably winds up on the race circuit. Here the measure of a man’s success and a test of good parenting seem to be his capacity to bump his opponent off the track. Forget the protocols of NASCAR racing where I understand it’s possible to win on points even if you don’t come first. When Rajveer – (Saif Ali Khan) swaggers into the brightness of the stadium with helmet in his hand and hears the crowd roar – “V. J!” he becomes a veritable gladiator.
Like Anand’s first film Salaam Namaste (2005), this is an NRI story, with some premarital sex (nothing steamy), a modern look and its fair share of slow motion “trampoline induced” jumps to indicate euphoria. The screenplay however, is so loose that the result becomes almost ambivalent. On leaving the cinema I wasn’t too sure whether I’d seen a tribute to materialism and ego or a story about family love. Whatever the case, it’s a film that tries to cover too many bases with only a modicum of originality.
One of the problems is that the idea of protecting one’s children from the harsh realities of life – used to good effect by Begnini in Life is Beautiful, seems unsuited to the predicament faced by the family in Ta Ra Rum Pum. V. J. experiences a bad turn on the track and loses his confidence so the family have to shift from Manhattan to Brooklyn. An attempted portrayal of their economic hardship is none-too-convincing. Neighbours are supportive, V. J. and Radhika (Rani Mukerjee) get jobs, their home is basic but prettily decorated, there’s a lot of love, a family pet so where, oh where are the harsh realities? The Singhs decide to continue sending their children to an expensive school and pretending that their life-style hasn’t really changed; that the changes are due to their involvement in a TV reality show. Pretence is motivated by ego rather than necessity which makes the premise hard to accept – especially since Radhika’s father is loaded and there is always a financial safety net. Silly decisions, motivated by some misguided attempts at self determination make for confused viewing.
The only moving features of the film were a few depictions of suffering where the children were involved but these were the results of lousy parenting rather than unfortunate circumstances and made me rail against Rhadika and V. J.(which was probably not the film’s intention.) Where it really matters – in the arena of life, V.J. is no hero, even though the film seems to bellow that that the race track is the ultimate test. No, a man who adapts to circumstances; who puts aside his ego and provides to the best of his ability is a hero so all the Ra! Ra! in Ta RA Rum Pum fell on deaf ears where this viewer was concerned.
The acting abilities of Saif Ali Khan and Rani Mukherjee were underutilized because any director would have had difficulty making sense of the character’s motives given the sprawling, ill-conceived material at hand. Jaaved Jaffrey as V. J’s friend and ex-manager pops up at regular intervals to go through a repetitious sequence which invariably ends in a stand-off between the buddies and a tired reaffirmation from V. J. that he will rise from the ashes. That said, Jaffrey’s role in this film is more fully developed than the odious cowboy cameo in Salaam Namaste.
Angelina Idnani and Ali Haji – the children are naturals but their responses are generally confined to the cute kiddie domain as presented in the animated theme song. Admittedly there are a few scenes where Priya (Angelina) is switched on to her family’s predicament and gives vent to her feelings. These instances are probably the most moving in the film. Pity that the modern lifestyle projected in the film doesn’t extend to modern views on child rearing which have parents giving kids honest answers to questions. It’s strange that a cool young couple wouldn’t operate this way.
Radhika and V. J’s love story in the first half exudes very little charm, an abundance of mechanical contrived meetings and the expected barrier of parental disapproval. There are some points of dramatic interest in the second half and the rendition of Saaiyaan is soulful but this is generally a predictable film which relies on clichés and the quick-fix rather than delving into the complexities of family relationships. There is plenty of colour and movement but like the cars on the circuit, it’s all just seems to go round in circles.