PUSHPA: THE RISE – PART 1 (2021)

Allu Arjun as Pushpa Raj
  • Release Date: 17/12/2021
  • Cast: Allu Arjun, Rashmika Mandanna, Suneel, Anasuya Bharadwaj, Fahadh Faasil
  • Director: Sukumar

Even with Allu Arjun at the top of his game, Pushpa whets your appetite but leaves you hungry

— Ambar Chatterjee

Pushpa: The Rise – Part 1 chronicles the journey of Pushpa Raj (Allu Arjun), a man from nothing who rises to be at the height of power because of his daredevil nature and shrewd intellect. He starts off as waged labor and gradually rises through the ranks to reach the top of the food chain where we see him assume control of the extraction and distribution network of the elusive red sandalwood. His journey to this position of power is neither easy nor without its share of life-threatening predicaments. The audiences are taken back and forth in time to show us the meteoric rise of a man who came from a place that was characterized by pain and insult and went on to assume control of his own life and that of innumerable others. 

While the story of Pushpa: The Rise – Part 1 is one that we have seen in different iterations repeatedly, it is the kind of story that will never lose its appeal and when done will always appeal to that hidden desire of people that makes them dream of attaining incredible success in a short period through their physical might and intellect. This is what we recognize as the underdog story and it never gets old. That is one aspect that the makers of this film bank their story on, and it does pay off. 

Sandalwood smuggling in parts of Southern India has always been in news and many like me are interested to learn the exact modus operandi for the same. While there have been a few films that documented a similar concept, Pushpa: The Rise – Part 1 is one of the most high-profile films to do so. It is also a film that has the most time to layout such an extensive concept and execute it well. Does it succeed in doing that? The answer is a yes and a no. While the film is able to establish a believable world around the smuggling trade and show us the stakes of each of the parties involved in the trade, it doesn’t dwell any deeper into the trade itself and barely scratches the surface of it. 

I would have loved for Sukumar to dwell much deep into the smuggling and give the audience a lot more insight into how it is executed, what are the stakes involved and how the police-smuggler-politician equation works. More than anything, I would have loved him to be ultra-realistic in the rendition of these aspects. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Sukumar falls prey to the tropes of commercial Telugu cinema and that liquidates the raw impact of what could have been an absorbing and intense drama documenting something that is still an enigma to many. The romantic and comic bits often take precedence over the central plot involving the sandalwood smuggling and the syndicate that runs it thereby not only dragging the film unnecessarily but also diluting the impact of the actual plot.

Pushpa: The Rise – Part 1 boasts of a protagonist who is as odd as one can get and yet infuses such infectious energy and style in the proceedings that it is difficult to think of anything else other than him when he is on the screen. Allu Arjun has always been a style statement in himself but here he takes the oddity of Pushpa to a whole new level and excels in everything that he does. One thing that he achieves right off the bat is infusing a sense of realism in the character that goes on a long way into extracting sentimentality and raging hero worship for the protagonist. He is far cry from the ultra-stylish and suave heroes that Arjun is known to portray. On the contrary, he is a thickly bearded, crass, and unkempt man here who cleans up only when he plans to get close to the love of his life. His posture is skewed because of a predicament that he experienced as a child. All this clubbed together makes Pushpa, an evidently odd and interesting protagonist.  

Allu Arjun is fantastic in rendering the emotional scenes and this aspect of his rendition adds a lot of depth to the character. Even with all his buffoonery and heroic exploits, Pushpa is a man who is conscious of his social deficiencies because of the fact that he is an illegitimate child. Every time the issue is brought up, and he is insulted, Arjun brings forth a gamut of expressions that honestly document the hurt and insult that the character has lived with since he was a child. This adds an additional dimension to the character and makes the audience sympathize with him. 

This is necessary as Pushpa is not a good man. What he does for a living cannot be justified and there needed to be at least some redeeming factor about the character. That factor is realized through the years of insult and emotional trauma that the character has had to endure and in some way, makes his illegal actions understandable and pay back to the world that has only hurt him for no fault of his. With all that said, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that Allu Arjun is what doesn’t let Pushpa become tedious. He is the heart and soul of the film and he does well enough to justify his presence in almost every shot of the film.

The supporting cast of the film is strong. The “national crush” Rashmika Mandanna is in her element here and she does what she is best known for. She is an actor who uses her expressions to incite comedy and oomph and she puts both these traits to use in her character here. Sadly, the problem lies with how her character is written and how the love story between her and Pushpa is shown to develop. There comes a time when it feels odd after all the buildup that is shown for the track to go in a certain direction. No matter how entertaining and sweet this portion of the film might be, it is, in the end, the only portion that is non-essential and adds nothing more to the story than a single action sequence that could have been put in for any other reason. 

Fahadh Faasil in a still

I thoroughly enjoyed Suneel’s performance as Srinu. He feels like the perfect antagonist for the crazy protagonist that this film boasts of and I would have loved to see him go head-to-head with Pushpa. Unfortunately, the showdown between the two is teased but never realized. I was frustrated by how tamely a character like Srinu taps out and lets Pushpa take control without even giving him a run for his money. Fans of Fahadh Faasil who would walk into this film to see their favourite Fa-Fa breathe fire will be disappointed. He is there for just about 20 minutes and while those 20 minutes are utilized well to set up the character for the next installment of the series, it does precious little for this film. I wasn’t too convinced with his bald makeup. This is something that keeps happening in Indian films. The makers need to understand that the actors need to shave their heads when playing bald characters as no makeup can believably replicate a bald head. It is nearly impossible to achieve and when not done well proves to be a major distraction.

The music and songs of Pushpa: The Rise – Part 1 of which there are 4 are all as odd as the film and the protagonist and yet they work wonders. It must be added that the performances of Allu Arjun, Rashmika Mandanna, and Samantha Ruth Prabhu in these songs make them special and alluring. Having said that, the songs in themselves have enough merit to be heard more than once but the situations and the picturization of the songs in the film adds a lot more to them than what one would get listening to or watching them without a pre-set context. The action of the film isn’t as extensive as the trailers might have suggested. It must also be added that the action sequences are nothing that we haven’t seen before and must be improved upon in the next installment of the film. 

Pushpa: The Rise – Part 1 is beautiful to look at. It has an amazing performance from Allu Arjun who is ably supported by the ensemble cast. The subject matter is interesting, but the execution could have been better. No matter how much I love Rashmika, I feel her track could have been totally done away with. This is more of a setup than anything else and by the end of the film, the story has finally been set up to scale greater heights in the next installment that will be called Pushpa: The Rule – Part 2. While I am not going berserk waiting for it, I sure am interested to see how the rivalry between Allu Arjun and Fa-Fa is developed and executed in that film. 

Rating: 3/5 (3 out of 5 Stars)

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