Pushpa: The Rise... some great elements almost get undone by an unnecessary romance arc and some drawn out musical numbers
You could say the hype around Pushpa: The Rise has been undeniably at an all-time high ever since the first look came out. This project marks the third time, Allu Arjun and director Sukumar reunited with their previous works, Arya and Arya-2 were cult classics in their own rights
You could say the hype around Pushpa: The Rise has been undeniably at an all-time high ever since the first look came out. This project marks the third time, Allu Arjun and director Sukumar reunited with their previous works, Arya and Arya-2 were cult classics in their own rights. So, after directing quite possibly his best work in the form of 2018's Rangasthalam, fans were expecting another lightning in a bottle from Sukumar but this time with his usual collaborators, Allu Arjun and Devi Sri Prasad. Now available on Amazon Prime, the results seem to be a little complicated...
Let's first address the issues which bring the movie down. I think it's universally agreed that many of us aren't fans of the romantic arc presented here in Pushpa: The Rise, particularly the woman lead character Srivalli, played by Rashmika Mandanna (note: in the end credits there's a spelling gaff for her name as she's credited here as Rashmika Madona). Not that her performance is bad or anything but the problem is that not only does it eat up the runtime of nearly 3 hours (plus some long-drawn-out songs), but it gets worse as the core of how this relationship came to be is regressive, to say the least. Initially, it starts off fine as Pushpa yearns for her to look at him once as he's too shy to do it himself but when he realizes she was paid to do so, (yeah, you heard that right) he initially balks at it until he realizes it's working and he wants to be intimate with her by "paying" her. This is problematic as hell and it's been something of a pattern from the actress as she's been subjected to some regressive antics in her works such as Sarileru Neekevvaru's infamous "false implication" scene, or the Amul Macho ad, and now this. It's really strange considering my first introduction to her work was Dear Comrade, where she plays a state-level cricketer who has been harassed by a higher-up.
It also comes off as inconsistent as Pushpa's behavior towards other women is actually the polar opposite as with his lover. He's more respectful to them compared to Srivalli, and it's only when she's sent by his partner to have sex with him in return for saving her father, he acts all high and mighty and bashes his partner to save her from the ordeal. In a way, the esoteric form of this aspect is well defined by the item number "Oo Antava Oo Oo Antava", where the song is a critique of the male gaze towards women doing item numbers but it's visually presented as an item number anyways. It also doesn't help that the runtime really doesn't do justice in anyways. With 3 hours of runtime, it's quite baffling that this is the "Part-1" of the story about the rise of Pushpa. Sure, Dune: Part 1 also had that same issue but that had an abrupt ending and a shorter runtime compared to Pushpa, plus Dune was perfectly paced unlike the latter. If only such care was taken for writing such scenes unless it would've been better if the filmmakers do away with all the romantic scenes and let the songs be shortened for story purposes. And yet, Pushpa: The Rise is not a bad film, far from it actually...
Technically, the movie is beautiful to look at. The cinematography by Mirosław Kuba Brożek brings a stark, rustic look at the red sanders forest where the natural environment looks unforgiving with some pretty great framing and set pieces. The action as usual has that bombastic style only Telugu cinema is famous for, as well as the production design, in which a set-piece involving disposing of all of the red sanders stock to avoid police capture is so well mounted, and well thought out thanks to the geography established here. The ensemble is also well cast here, with Sunil transforming into the intimidating yet slimy Mangalam Srinu, Ajay Ghosh as Konda Reddy, Anasuya Bharadwaj as Srinu's wife Dakshayini, and of course the best of all, Fahadh Faasil as the psychotic yet authoritative Bhanwar Singh Shekhawat. Sure, he's only there for like 20 minutes in the end, but his presence provides a foil to Pushpa's lackadaisical attitude towards him and puts him in his place when the latter bribes him. It also teases a great potential at the end where they're at loggerheads when Pushpa humiliates Bhanwar, but the reactions from each say something different. Pushpa is now angrier and maybe could be worried about his actions as he may have brought his own downfall whereas Bhanwar Singh, despite walking back humiliated sees it as an opportunity to get back at him and gleefully laughs at the fact that he could bring hell onto Pushpa.
But the beating heart of this movie certainly belongs to Allu Arjun. Here, his take on Pushpa is virtually unrecognizable, his body language with a slouching left shoulder, his "I don't give a f*ck" attitude towards his higher-ups, and his conviction towards this role makes it his career-best to date. As mentioned his acting during the climax scene is great, but my favorite aspect about Pushpa is that whenever everything anyone throws at him, he retorts back with no care in the world, but when they ask him his surname (his identity was taken away by his step-brothers as he's a bastard son), he crumbles down into a hopeless little child. It's as if the attitude he displays is a sort of a coping mechanism, as it is only due to that aspect he and Bhanwar Singh are at loggerheads in the end when the latter insults his identity and Pushpa takes offense at it. It's like his only "weakness" and he fights it back by saying "Pushpa isn't a flower, but it is a fire".