Step aside, Bollywood’s Bong Joon-Ho was correct when he said that once you get over the subtitle barrier, the universe of cinema opens up. Pushpa is a masala box-office success, but not in the usual sense.
Imagine a classic Salman Khan blockbuster with a compelling storey and a strong supporting cast — that’s pretty much how the first instalment of the two-part film series Pushpa: The Rise is described. Forget logic; Allu Arjun’s film has enough star power and spice to be considered a mainstream theatre blockbuster. When Spider-Man: No Way Home, Marvel’s legacy franchise, was released in theatres on December 17, 2021, the Telugu picture was able to not only compete, but also make a considerable dent in the box office. That success spilled over into OTT when the Hindi version of the film was launched on Amazon Prime Video on January 14, 2022. The film follows the ascent of the titular figure, played by Allu Arjun, from a coolie to the head of a smuggling gang of red sanders. Red sandalwood is only found in the forests of Andhra Pradesh’s Rayalaseema region’s Seshachalam Hills.
Pushpa Raj, the hero of the Sukumar-directed picture, appears to be an ordinary man with a tragic history (no flat board abs to admire, sorry). Pushpa emphasises his daily difficulty with having no surname because he was born out of wedlock again and time again. Pushpa, despite his ordinariness, appears to have a superpower: he can get out of any dangerous scenario unscathed. To be fair, there are a few flimsy attempts to make him appear stuck, but only for two or three scenes. The hero appears to be ubiquitous, fully aware of his foes’ schemes. Nothing is going to be able to bring him down!
The Hindi remake tries but fails to capture the beauty and intricacies of the Telugu saga’s rags-to-riches storey. The introductory scene of Allu Arjun in the dubbed version is a parody of Shah Rukh Khan’s famous phrase “Rahul, naam toh suna hoga.” Pushpa Raj is asked who he is by a police officer, to which he replies, “Pushpa, naam yad mat rakhna (Pushpa, don’t remember my name)”. This is completely contradictory to what Pushpa said in Telugu! The cop in the original version inquires about his identity and whether he is Tamilian, to which the character responds that he is a “hardcore Telugu.”