Pushpa: The Rise movie review – Allu Arjun is perfect in a film that is too long for its own good
Pushpa: The Rise movie review – Sukumar and Allu Arjun film promise craft and thought
Sukumar's Pushpa: The Rise, the first installment of a two-parter, begins in Japan. A well-made animation clearly and succinctly informs the viewer about the film. The macro—why red sandalwood is worth killing/dying for—and the micro—the man at the middle—are swiftly established. Even in a short period, Sukumar promises craft and thought. Keshava's voiceover takes us further into the world of Seshachalam. But who is Keshava narrating the story to? And why would a film that is, anyway, going to drown itself in DSP's BGM need Resul Pookutty to design its sound? Apart from the chirps of a bird and the little jingle of a stray anklet, I don't remember much. That's my problem with Pushpa: The Rise. The film that could've been.
Pushpa Raj, the titular character, is an illegitimate child of a dead man whose sons would do anything to disown/disrespect him and his mother. This is his only weakness and he is always at the edge of breaking when his linage is under question. What happens when this otherwise perfect human being decides to take over the illegal smuggling of red sandalwood in Seshachalam hills (apparently the only place on earth where this wood is available)?
Sukumar has a vision for who Pushpa is, both the character and the film.
With Pushpa Raj, it all comes down to respect: for him, his mother, and, most importantly, his birth. The scenes that establish this aspect of his character are wonderfully written. The call-back to Sunil's technique shows that Pushpa is learning on the job and he is one quick learner. But since Sukumar writes Pushpa as a masala hero, he isn't given the luxury of a fall. He's never known a danger that he can't fight his way out of—he goes through a whole fight sequence with a t-shirt covering his face. I understand the temptation to create a superhuman hero. A hero who can hurt someone in creative ways gets whistles. But three hours is a long time and claps and whistles can only take you so far.
With the film, Sukumar mostly struggles to wriggle out of the limitations he's created for himself. In any tale of rags to riches, the protagonist slowly climbs the proverbial ladder by using the skills at their disposal. For the highs to be enthralling, the lows need to be equally soul-crushing. Maybe, the second part is going to be all about the lows, but as a standalone entity, this film needed to go through something to avoid monotony. As far as filmmaking goes, it never takes the star worship as an excuse to take the viewer for granted. Miroslaw Brozek's camera moves purposefully and, even within the visual grammar of a commercial film, it finds ways to impress. The vertical tracking shot that shows us the bark of a tree that is about to be cut is particularly rememberable. Antony L. Ruben and Karthika Srinivas' editing, too, shines in unexpected places like the songs and well-choreographed action sequences. The VFX could've been much better, even if I'm going to give him the benefit of doubt.
But the show belongs to one man and one man only—Allu Arjun. He plays Pushpa with a notorious familiarity that sometimes escapes even the most seasoned of actors. From the minute he enters the screen by pushing some random policeman out of a lorry, he has your attention. Despite the flimsy and repetitive emotional core, we empathise with Pushpa's pain because the actor playing him is fully convinced by it. From the way, he awkwardly keeps losing his slipper while swaying to Srivalli's tune, to the way he asserts his self-respect when someone asks him to sit appropriately, he is perfect. Rashmika Mandanna, too, is impressive as Srivalli. Again, even if her motives aren't clear in the writing, the actor manages to distract the viewer with her earnestness and innate sparkle. Jagadeesh Pratap, as Keshava, is great as the righthand man, who both initiates and helps sustain Pushpa's rise to the top. Sunil and co, as the supporting cast—I say supporting because they don't have the follow-through to be the central threat—are adequate.
It is too soon to say, but Fahadh Faasil's psychotic SI needs work. Even if he is introduced as the perfect match for Pushpa, his power soon fizzles out to make way for Pushpa's invincibility. That's the problem with writing an infallible hero and his 'maha aakali'. It gnaws at anything that threatens to take the attention away from him.
Pushpa says that he is a better man than Jolly Reddy, a serial rapist. But in the same sentence, he asks Srivalli to kiss him for 5000/-. 'Daako Daako Meka' discusses the film's supposed philosophy: if you aren't feasting, you are probably the feast. Very poignant, except Pushpa is written too powerful to ever be anybody's food. 'O Antava Oo Antava' is supposed to be a scathing commentary on men, but I couldn't hear anything over the cheers and hoots appreciating Samatha's flexibility. Sukumar expects the viewer to have an immersive experience, but he also wants to randomly insert songs. You can't have both.
The film is running in theatres.
Sankeertana Varma is an engineer who took a few years to realise that bringing two lovely things, movies and writing, together is as great as it sounds. Mainly writes about Telugu cinema.
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