What’s it about?
The 1990s. The film begins with a coolie named Pushpa Raj transporting Red sandalwood, a valued wood. His friend Keshava narrates Pushpa Raj’s rise from a coolie to a don.
Pushpa Raj (Allu Arjun), born out of wedlock, is seething with rage as people humiliate him for not having a surname. Naturally, his urge to earn big money and name becomes his ultimate goal. Where does he live? In a forest, where red sanders are smuggled. So, joining this business is a natural choice for him. As his nature, he is not satisfied with the small successes in the business. He wants to become a don. How does he achieve this is the main story.
Moving away from contemporary urban stories, director Sukumar reinvented himself with ‘Rangasthalam’, by delving into rural themes and period dramas. The film’s massive commercial success inspired him to tread the same path. His latest film ‘Pushpa The Rise’, the first in the two-part drama, is set in Seshachalam forest in Andhra Pradesh, where the smuggling of red sanders is prevalent. While ‘Rangasthalam’ was set in the 1980s, ‘Pushpa The Rise’ has the 1990s as the period.
Sukumar has a unique style of writing interesting characters. Pushpa Raj’s characterization is one such. The characterization has a lot of depth. He is Pushpa Raj but prefers to be called Pushpa. The humiliation he faces for his birth is what drives him to be a king of his place. The protagonist is not a typical hero. He is an illegitimate child, a smuggler, and he is a person with a slight hunchback. None of these characteristics are associated with a regular commercial hero in movies. Sukumar has dared to add them. He has also set the story in the Seshachalam forest and takes us into the deep forest with his narrative.
Sukumar begins the film with a bang. The first half of the film is quite engaging. All the introduction of characters, Pushpa Raj’s playfulness, and couple of comedy scenes hold our interest. One of the best scenes in the first half is Pushpa Raj’s rage when he was humiliated at the Pelli Choopulu scene. Another interesting scene: Pushpa Raj stepping into the house of the main villain (played by Sunil) and challenging him.
But once everything is established, it fizzles. Because Sukumar has tried to play the same elements in the second half as well. It turns out to be the rise of the underdog, a regular formula.
The biggest trump card he has in the film is Allu Arjun’s characterization. Allu Arjun has also owned the role and has given the best performance. But other than Allu Arjun’s role, other characters don’t have the same arc. Sunil, Ajay Ghosh, Anasuya, Shatru, Rao Ramesh, and Dhananjay have a predictable character arc.
Each of the characters sports a different getup. But the depth in their roles is superficial.
The first half of ‘Pushpa’ has similarities with the Netflix series, Narcos. Many scenes are inspired by it, and that is where the story holds our interest. But the second half goes on and on with no strong conflict. The twist comes minutes before the arrival of Fahadh Faasil. He is the nemesis for Pushpa Raj.
The other mistake is that the film begins with the voiceover of Pushpa Raj’s friend Keshava. But the voiceover ends much before the climax. Some roles may get their due in the second part of the film, but they don’t make much impact here. The runtime is an inexcusable flaw. With a template story, it is three hours long. Plus, had the film made as one part, it would have been different.
The biggest strength of the film is Allu Arjun. His performance is brilliant. He has completely surrendered himself to the role and played with conviction. It is one of his best performances. His Chittoor dialogue delivery needs applause. Fahadh Faasil leaves a strong impression with just 15 minutes of his presence. He may get a full-length role in the second part.
Rashmika Mandanna has played her role well. Her Chittoor slang is also believable. But scenes like she agreeing to kiss to hero for Rs 5000 are not in good taste at all. The rest of the actors don’t make much impression.
Devi Sri Prasad has given another terrific album. All his songs have become popular. “Saami Saami” and “Hey Bidda” stand out. But the background score is not up to the mark. The cinematography is also superlative. But tacky visual effects and jarring sound mixing are glaringly visible.
Bottom-line: ‘Pushpa The Rise’ is completely Allu Arjun’s show. His performance is his main strength. The ‘fire’ is missing in the latter part of the film, and the lengthy runtime is a major issue.
Film: Pushpa The Rise
Cast: Allu Arjun, RashmikaMandanna, FahadhFaasil, Sunil, Ajay, Dhananjay, Anasuya and others
Writer: Srikanth Vissa
Music: Devi Sri Prasad
Editor: Karthika Srinivas and Ruben
Art: Ramakrishna, Monika
Action: Ram -Laxman, Peter Hein
Sound Design: ResulPookutty
Producers: Naveen Yerneni, Y Ravi Shankar
Written and directed by: Sukumar
Release Date: Dec 17, 2021