If there's one thing that Telugu filmmakers have mastered over the years, it's their knack to get the masala cinema formula right.
No matter how predictable their films get, most Telugu films continue to appeal to the masses because of the mainstream treatment, and Allu Arjun's Pushpa: The Rise is no different.
Sukumar's film is largely engaging and set against the backdrop of red sandalwood smuggling as it follows the rise of the film's lead, Pushparaj aka Pushpa.
The terrific Allu Arjun not only shines in the role, but also makes it one of the most memorable characters in recent years.
Pushpa, who lives with his mother, grows up without a father. He's shamed for being a boy without a family name and years of humiliation leave him scarred, and he yearns to earn an identity for himself.
After taking up menial jobs for a pittance, he volunteers to be part of the red sandalwood smuggling gang for better pay. He slowly gains the trust of his employers and soon rises through the ranks to become their go-to guy.
The rise to the top comes with its share of obstacles, but Pushpa is the kind of guy who gets what he wants.
As he slowly starts to gain control over the business while earning the wrath of a few, he crosses paths with Bhanwar Singh Shekhawat, played by the inimitable Fahadh Faasil. It is here that all hell breaks loose.
At three-hour-long, Pushpa manages to stay engaging for the most part and never makes sitting through the film tiring.
It's a character-driven story and Sukumar needs to be lauded for effectively establishing the character of Pushpa, whose growth couldn't have been handled more satisfyingly.
The only minor issue with the writing is that the hero, who's meant to win in the end like in most stories, has no stakes in the game and nothing to lose, which sort of makes him invincible and the film's multiple antagonists, powerless.
Even the inclusion of Fahadh Faasil, who will apparently get a meatier part in the second film, doesn't create the kind of impact most would've anticipated.
Despite the crowd-pleasing confrontation scenes between Allu Arjun and Fahadh Faasil, the film's end is slightly underwhelming.
Pushpa is Allu Arjun's show all the way, and he plays a very crucial role in making the film work to a large extent. Be it the Telugu accent, his character's mannerism and body language including the one-sided drooping shoulder, he seems to have championed every facet of the character to make it a unique and highly entertaining performance.
However, the other key characters are poorly written.
Rashmika Mandanna hardly gets to leave a mark with her forgettable character. The face-off between Allu Arjun and Fahadh Faasil towards the end is a subplot that the audience wished was explored much earlier in the movie.
We get two men who are consumed by the urge to lock horns over who's more powerful but the audience is waiting to bet my money on the second part.