An hour into director B Sukumar’s Telugu film Pushpa - The Rise , set in the Seshachalam forest bordering Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, a character makes a frenzied announcement to Pushparaj (Allu Arjun) that the cops are on their trail, with their eyes on the red sandalwood stocked in the godown. What follows in the next few minutes shows yet again why Telugu filmmakers excel in making masala segments that capture viewers’ imagination. How Pushpa hoodwinks the cops and secures the red sandalwood might seem tough in reality, but a larger-than-life Telugu film will make the audiences give into that suspension of disbelief.
Pushpa - The Rise, the first instalment of the two-part gangster drama, traces the rise of the shrewd protagonist from a daily wager to controlling the smuggling syndicate. The story takes place when pagers were in vogue and mobile phones a luxury.
- Cast: Allu Arjun, Rashmika Mandanna, Fahadh Faasil
- Direction: B Sukumar
- Music: Devi Sri Prasad
After Rangasthalam , Sukumar presents another story in a raw and rustic tone, this time in the Chittoor belt, complete with a smattering of Tamil lingo. The cat and mouse game between the cops and the smugglers in the opening segment serves to show what makes Pushpa stand out from others of his ilk. We see him through the eyes of daily wager Kesava (Jagadeesh Prathap Bandari makes a mark) who goes on to be his loyal apprentice. It’s a sort of a ‘meeting story’ when we are introduced to Pushpa’s audacity to want a lot more than the pittance that the coolies are doled out.
The origin story unravels in greater detail by and by and often harks back to Pushpa being questioned about his family name. It’s a trope that several mainstream films have overused, particularly with a wayward protagonist. Pushpa’s only vulnerability is when someone mocks him of his origins.
Sukumar gives Pushpa a characteristic gait with a raised right shoulder and an ever-present swagger, but never actually makes him vulnerable. Not even when he is taking on supposedly ruthless kingpins at every step of the smuggling syndicate. The three smuggler brothers hardly pose a threat to Pushpa. Mangalam Sreenu (Sunil) appears menacing on a comparative scale. The supposedly brave cop Govindappa (Shatru) is forgotten soon enough and gets a blink-and-miss appearance towards the end. The lack of a staunch opponent makes Pushpa’s rise fairly simple.
What makes Pushpa so ruthless and ambitious? We will never know. The story wants us to be content with the argument that he has never gotten his due since childhood, neither in terms of money nor dignity, and now he wants it all. He knows a thing or two about the predator-prey cycle (the ‘ Daakko Daakko Meka’ song is a catchy, rousing number on screen) and wants to be on top of it. Can he?
Despite the want of more depth in the characterisation, Allu Arjun makes Pushparaj striking. He owns the swagger and is in control of things. He exudes the shrewdness required for his part and brings in restraint in the emotional portions.
Much of Pushpa happens in the forest and the atmospherics add to the immersive quality of the film. Mirosław Kuba Brożek’s camera pulls us into the wilderness, bringing alive the interplay of deep greens and stark browns of the land and its people, contrasted by the sparkling waters. Devi Sri Prasad’s music and background score accentuate the rustic setting.
Pushpa begins as an absorbing tale before it meanders with a silly romance track and crawls post intermission to an underwhelming finish. The less said about the characterisation of women in this film, the better. As Srivalli, Rashmika is required to exude rustic exuberance and nothing more. And who thought it is humorous to have the hero ask the woman to kiss him for ₹5000? Later, Srivalli tells him that she still fell in love with him and thought his actions stemmed from the fact that he did not know better. For a moment, I had hoped this scene was going to set things right, but what she said soon after dashed all hopes.
The much-hyped special song featuring Samantha Ruth Prabhu elicits the expected response in the theatre but you can’t help wondering if someone of her stature and calibre needed to do this. Isn’t it high time item numbers are done away with?
The women in this film range from a weepy, good mother at one end to a paan -chewing, venom-spewing bejewelled wife (Anasuya Bharadwaj) of a smuggler at the other end, both cliches. After Rangamma in Rangasthalam, Anasuya deserved better.
But the biggest disappointment is Fahadh Faasil. The second part will see a lot more of him, but the little we get of him in this film is a dampener. You don’t need a Fahadh Faasil for an over the top opponent.
Pushpa - The Rise is riveting in some segments and bland in others. Allu Arjun shoulders the film, but his coming together with Sukumar should have been for a more absorbing narrative. Perhaps the second part, Pushpa - The Rule , will be better.