In the 1990s, Pushpa Raj is a coolie who works to smuggle red sanders, a rare wood that only grows in the Seshachalam Hills of the Chittoor district in Andhra Pradesh. When DSP Govindappa raids them in the forest, Pushpa hides and recovers the stock, thereby gaining the trust of his employer Konda Reddy. With the help of novel ideas to smuggle the red sanders, he quickly rises through the ranks and becomes Konda Reddy's partner.
Mangalam Srinu, a merciless dealer who manages the red sanders syndicate entrusts Konda Reddy to keep 200 tons of his stock safe. As Konda's younger brother, Jolly Reddy is deemed incompetent, Pushpa is given the job. Govindappa attempts to raid them but Pushpa throws all the logs into the river, saving it from being seized. At a party, Pushpa overhears that Srinu is selling the wood at a much higher rate than what they're paid. He asks Konda to demand a fair share but backs down as going against Srinu seems risky.
Pushpa meets Srivalli and instantly falls for her. On their engagement day, his half-brother Mohan denies Pushpa's lineage because he was born out of wedlock while his mother is injured in the ensuing scuffle. This angers Pushpa, which motivates him to rise higher in life. The next day, he smuggles the wood to Chennai and meets Srinu from whom he demands ₹1 crore (US$130,000) per ton as their share. Srinu refuses and his men attack him but Pushpa overpowers them. He then goes to Chennai himself and cuts a deal to sell the wood at ₹1.5 crore (US$200,000) per ton, which Konda and Pushpa agree to share equally.
Jolly blackmails Srivalli to spend a night with him while holding her father captive. Enraged, Pushpa badly beats up Jolly, temporarily paralyzing him. Konda, finding out that Pushpa is responsible for his brother's condition, tries to kill him but Srinu's men ambush them. Amid the confusion, Pushpa manages to counterattack them. Konda is killed but Pushpa saves Konda's brother Jakka Reddy. He also captures Srinu's brother-in-law Mogileesu and kills him. MP Bhumireddy Siddappa Naidu arranges a truce between Pushpa and Srinu and appoints Pushpa to manage their syndicate. After 6 months, Pushpa becomes an influential person. Due to Srinu's inability to avenge his brother-in-law, his wife Dakshayini slits his throat which injures him.
While Pushpa is at his prime, a ruthless police officer Bhanwar Singh Shekhawat takes charge as the district's SP. Pushpa offers him a bribe of ₹1 crore (US$130,000). Shekhawat, however, intimidates and ridicules Pushpa for his lineage and not giving respect by addressing him as "Sir". Pushpa gets angry by this insult and fists his fingers. Shekhawat threatens to shoot his hand if Pushpa does not unfold his fingers. In a desperate situation, Pushpa backs down and leaves the station. On the night of Pushpa's wedding, Pushpa and Shekhawat drink together. Expressing contempt on how he was ridiculed in their first meeting, Pushpa takes Shekhawat's revolver and shoots himself in his hands. He pressures Shekhawat to get undressed while he also does the same. Pushpa says that his stature as that of a syndicate boss remains the same nonetheless while Shekhawat is nothing without his police uniform to the extent that even his dog would not recognize him if he is naked. Pushpa leaves for his wedding while Shekhawat goes back home semi-naked. As predicted, his dog barks at him. Enraged, Shekhawat kills the dog and burns the bribe money given by Pushpa.
Post the success of Rangasthalam (2018), Sukumar narrated a script to Mahesh Babu, with whom he previously worked in 1: Nenokkadine (2014). Babu, who liked the story, gave a nod to the project, and was reported to start the shoot after completing Vamshi Paidipally's project Maharshi (2019). In mid-April 2019, Mythri Movie Makers, which collaborated with Sukumar in their previous film Rangasthalam, officially announced the project which was tentatively titled as #SSMB26, thus marking their second collaboration with Babu and Sukumar.[a] The film was expected to begin in January 2019, but, in that March, Mahesh Babu walked out of Sukumar's project citing creative differences, and he confirmed this through Twitter. The actor instead signed his next project with Anil Ravipudi titled as Sarileru Neekevvaru, whereas Sukumar approached Allu Arjun for his next marking his reunion with the director after a decade since Arya 2 (2009), Mythri Movie Makers which earlier associated with Babu and Sukumar's project also agreed to produce the venture.
The plot revolves around the smuggling of red sanders (image pictured).
Sukumar described the storyline as, "the red sanders heist in the hills of Andhra is a convoluted nexus that unfurls in the course of the narrative through a coolie-turned-smuggler." Sukumar explored the subject of red sandalwood smuggling when he read about such incidents in Andhra Pradesh years ago. Sukumar did his research and thought of developing the project as a web series. However, he later decided to make it as a film. He personally went for location scouting across Nallamala Forest as the film is set in Rayalaseema and Nellore and the plot revolves around red sanders smuggling. Since most of the shoot take place in rural backdrop, Allu Arjun was reported to master Chittoor accent for the film, and the makers hired a team from Bollywood to work on his look. The story was set against the backdrop of Seshachalam forest, located in the hilly region of Tirumala. Polish cinematographer Miroslaw Kuba Brozek, who worked for Nani's Gangleader (2019) was signed for the film. Karthika Srinivas is performing the film's editing, whereas Mounika and Ramakrishna, the art directors of Sukumar's previous film Rangasthalam (2018) were chosen for production design.Resul Pookutty is signed for the film's sound design, along with Vijay Kumar. The film's title Pushpa was officially announced on 8 April 2020, on the occasion of Allu Arjun's birthday and a poster was also released.
Allu Arjun played the titular character Pushpa Raj, a red-sanders smuggler, and sported a bearded look for his role in the film.Rashmika Mandanna was cast as the film's lead actress, with an official announcement made on Allu Arjun's birthday (8 April 2019). Mandanna in an online interaction confirmed that she will be learning a new dialect for the film, which is slightly based on the accent of Chittoor.Jisshu Sengupta was originally offered to play the antagonist but he refused due to pandemic and time constraint.Vijay Sethupathi entered in talks to play the antagonist in October 2019, after working with Sukumar in the director's production venture Uppena (2021), and was confirmed to be part of the film in January 2020. However, in July 2020, Sethupathi left the film citing scheduling conflicts. Post Sethupathi's exit, Vikram,Bobby Simha,Madhavan and Arya were reported to play negative roles in the film, but Malayalam actor Fahadh Faasil was announced as the film's antagonist in March 2021, thus marking his debut in Telugu cinema. For his role in the film, Fahadh sported a bald look and a rough mustache.
Kannada actor Dhananjay was reported to play a pivotal role in April 2020.Jagapathi Babu and Prakash Raj were signed to play key roles in the film. In November 2020, Sunil was cast in a supporting role and was present in the film's second schedule along with Harish Uthaman, and Vennela Kishore. Sunil's character was reported to have grey shades in the film. Though it was reported that Anasuya Bharadwaj was playing a crucial role, she later clarified that she wasn't approached for the film. However, Bharadwaj joined the film shooting in April 2021. In July 2021, Sritej confirmed that he was cast in the role of Pushpa Raj's brother. The film had three antagonists, with Sunil and Anasuya, being the antagonists in the first part, while Fahadh's character, Bhanwar Singh Shekhawat, the main antagonist, will appear only at the end of the first part and will continue throughout its sequel. Jagadeesh was cast by Sukumar after watching his performances in the films Mallesham (2019) and George Reddy (2019). In an interview, Jagadeesh Prathap Bandari revealed that he has left 15 smaller projects for working in the film.Samantha joined the production in late-November 2021. She has shot for the item song "Oo Antava Oo Oo Antava" alongside Allu Arjun and others. On working in the song, she said that "being sexy is next level hard work".
In July 2019, the makers planned to start the filming during the occasion of Dusshera (7 October 2019). However, the launch event of the film took place on 30 October 2019, with a formal puja ceremony held in Hyderabad at the office of Mythri Movie Makers, with the film's cast and crew being present at the event. In December 2019, Sukumar performed a test shoot in Kerala's Athirappilly Falls. After Allu Arjun's involvement in the promotions of Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo (2020), the makers planned to shoot the first schedule of the film in Kerala in March 2020, with Arjun joining the schedule, however, the filming was halted due to COVID-19 pandemic in India.
For a 6-minute action sequence in the film, the team planned to hire action choreographers from South India, instead of opting for foreign technicians. Thus, the film became a "Make In India" project, an initiative to provide employment to the workers from the Indian Film Industry, after some technicians faced employment crisis due to the pandemic. This sequence is reported to be made a cost of ₹6 crore (US$800,000) and Allu Arjun has been trained intensively for this sequence.
The makers later planned to shift the location from Kerala to Andhra Pradesh, due to restrictions on travel, in order to curb the COVID-19 pandemic. In June 2020, the makers planned to resume the shoot in Ramoji Film City in Hyderabad, and later planned to shoot the film at Nalgonda. Post government permitted film shootings with minimal crew, the makers resumed filming on 10 November 2020 in Maredumilli forest in Andhra Pradesh, and completed within 14 days. The team moved to Rajahmundry in December 2020 to shoot key sequences, but was indefinitely postponed to January 2021, as twelve crew members working in the film were diagnosed with COVID-19. The shooting later resumed in January 2021 and the production house tweeted that two schedules at Rampachodavaram and Maredumilli was completed within February 2021. The team also finished a schedule at Kerala in March 2021.
The shooting of the film was put on hold due to restrictions following second wave of COVID-19 pandemic in India, and Allu Arjun was also diagnosed with COVID-19 in late April. The team resumed the final leg shooting on 6 July 2021, with a major schedule was filmed in Secunderabad, but came to a halt on 24 July 2021 when Sukumar was diagnosed with dengue fever. The filming resumed two days, after Sukumar cured from the disease. On 22 August 2021, Fahadh Faasil joined the shooting schedule of the film. After wrapping her portions in the Hindi film Goodbye, Rashmika joined the shoot for filming her portions. In September 2021, she rejoined the shoot after a brief break. On 8 September, Allu Arjun headed to Maredumilli to film the final schedule. After a month-long production, on 4 October, the team started shooting face off scenes between Allu Arjun and Fahadh Faasil. Finally, a special song featuring Samantha was filmed in November 2021 at a specially constructed set at the Ramoji Film City and "Ye Bidda Idi Na Adda " song, was Arjun filmed at Mallikarjun swami mandir of Beeramguda. After this, the film entered into the full-fledged post-production phase.
Speaking to the media at a promotional event of Tamil version in Chennai, Allu Arjun said that "We had about 400-500 cars in the forest that would take us from point A to B. In some places, there were no roads and we had to create a pathway with whatever was available. The filming itself took us almost two years, that is why I say this: the effort we had put in for Pushpa is equal to four films."
The dubbing works of the film have begun in April 2021. Ten days before the release of the film, Shreyas Talpade confirmed that he has dubbed for Allu Arjun of the film's Hindi version.Jis Joy who has dubbed for Arjun's previous films in Malayalam, has been signed to voice dub for Allu Arjun of the film's Malayalam version. By the early-December 2021 he has completed his portions of dubbing.Fahadh Faasil has dubbed for his role in all the languages, except Hindi.
Sukumar's regular collaborator Devi Sri Prasad composed score and soundtrack of this film.[b]
Pushpa: The Rise was released on 17 December 2021. Previously. the film was announced to release on 13 August 2021, coinciding with the Independence Day weekend. In May 2021, the makers announced that the film would be releasing in two parts, with the first part coming on the originally intended release date while the second installment will be arriving in 2022. The producers released a statement saying: "The storyline and the characters took on lives of their own and grew to a span that required the movie to be released in two parts", with the title of the film's first part was unveiled as Pushpa: The Rise – Part 1 in August 2021. Due to surge in the COVID-19 pandemic, the film's release was rescheduled to Christmas 2021. In October 2021, the makers announced the release date as 17 December 2021. It simultaneously released in Telugu and dubbed versions in Malayalam, Tamil, Kannada and Hindi languages.
Following the release, the makers deleted a controversial scene on fans' demand. In the scene, Pushpa (played by Arjun) touches Srivalli's (played by Mandanna) chest and have a conversation about it, and they felt it may not go well with the family audience. It is also reported that a few more scenes were cut to reduce its runtime.
On 25 June 2021, Eenadu reported that the Hindi dubbing rights were sold for ₹17.3 crore (US$2.3 million). Initially Karan Johar's Dharma Productions were reported to acquire the distribution rights, and may present and promote the Hindi version of the film in North Indian theatres. This was reported to be third South Indian film to be presented by the company after the Baahubali franchise and 2.0 (2018). However, it was reported that the film's Hindi version will not have a be simultaneous theatre release, instead the Hindi dubbed version will release directly on YouTube. It has been reported that, the Hindi version faced troubles due to the legal disputes between the producers and Goldmines Telefilms, which regularly distributed the Hindi versions of the actor's previous films. However, in November 2021, a Hindi-version poster was later released, thus clarifying that the film will have theatrical release in Hindi. In the same month it was also reported that the Goldmines Telefilms will distribute the film in the Hindi-version by collaborating with another production company. On 20 November 2021, it was confirmed through social media that the Hindi distribution would be done by AA Films. The film is distributed in Tamil Nadu by Lyca Productions and Sri Lakshmi Movies, Swagath Enterprises in Karnataka and by E4 Entertainments in Kerala.
Star India Network acquired the satellite rights of the film, while Amazon Prime Video acquired the digital rights. The film began streaming 21 days later through Amazon Prime Video on 7 January 2022 while the Hindi version began streaming from 14 January 2022.
Asianet News reported that the reviews were mixed, while International Business Times and Koimoi mention that reviews were positive. Haricharan Pudipeddi of Hindustan Times called it "one of the most entertaining movies of the year", writing, "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 Indian Express gave it 3 out of 5 stars. Writing for The News Minute, Sowmya Rajendran said: "Allu Arjun is immensely likable on screen and that keeps Pushpa going despite its lengthy runtime of three hours." Also opining that the film was a bit long, Firstpost's Sankeertana Varma said: "Sukumar has a vision for who Pushpa is, both the character and the film."
The Times of India critic Neeshita Nyayapati praised Allu's performance, action sequences, direction, cinematography and score but criticised the technical aspects while stating: "Pushpa: The Rise is Allu Arjun’s show all the way. He shines in playing this rustic character that is hard on the surface but vulnerable in ways that others don’t see." Similarly, a reviewer from Pinkvilla gave the film 3 out of 5 praising Allu's performance and soundtrack writing "'Pushpa: The Rise' needed smarter writing for sure. But it's still one of the most engaging mass masala films in recent times. Devi Sri Prasad's superb songs hit the ball out of the park."News18 praised the performances, action sequences and soundtrack writing "Overall, the film is a massy entertainer with a decent storyline and is custom-made for Allu Arjun’s fans."Bollywood Hungama gave it 3.5/5 rating, wrote its a "Paisa vasool" (transl. Value for money) film and called Sukumar's screenplay "top notch."
Calling it a "mixed bag," Sangeetha Devi Dundoo of The Hindu, wrote, "Pushpa – The Rise is riveting in some segments and bland in others. Allu Arjun shoulders the film, but his coming together with Sukumar should have been for a more absorbing narrative." Rating the film 3/5, India Today critic Janki K. praised Allu and Sunil's performances but felt that Mandanna was in the film "only for the male gaze". On technical aspects, she appreciated cinematography and editing but criticised Sukumar's screenplay, calling it "one of the weakest screenplay of his career."
NTV Telugu rated Pushpa : The Rise by 3/5, reviewer felt that the people who like to see action films, will love this film but the climax will disappoint audience. Praising the work of cast and crew, a reviewer from Eenadu opined that Sukumar should have re-thought about the runtime and spent more time in the post-production. Anji Shetty of Sakshi appreciated the red sanders backdrop and Allu's characterisation but felt that the story was predictable and the climax with Fahadh was a disappointment. In her review for BBC Telugu, Sahiti stated Sukumar deviated from his usual style of filmmaking and opted for flat narrative in Pushpa which was one of the film's downsides.
Deccan Chronicle gave the film 3/5, and called it a "one-man show" referring to lead actor Allu Arjun. The reviewer added that the latter half was predictable and Sami Sami song appears without context with climax lacking punch. In ABP News's review, Ravi Bule felt that the story was not fresh but by the style it was expressed its new. A News 18 Hindi reviewer also felt the same. She added Mandanna's role was very dull and director doesn't dwell onto how oridinary kid like Pushpa grows up to a goon of his village. Reviewing the Hindi dubbed version, Komal Nahata praised Arjun's acting and Shreyas Talpade's Hindi dubbing of Pushpa character.
On its opening day, Pushpa: The Rise netted ₹440 million in India with a gross of around ₹510 million, and set a post-pandemic record for day one. Including the premieres, the film grossed $850,000 in the United States and obtained a worldwide gross of ₹74 crore on its first day.Pushpa grossed over ₹159 crore worldwide in its opening weekend. It netted over ₹107.5 crore in three days, making it the first ₹100 crore weekend in India post-COVID-19 pandemic. Overall, its the 13th film and fourth South India film to achieve this feat. Box Office India reported that the opening would have been higher, if not for the ticket pricing issue in Andhra Pradesh state. An article from The Indian Express analysed the losses incurred by The Rise due to low ticket prices in Andhra. "Pushpa collected a [distributor's] share of a little more than ₹13 crore from the state’s 1100 screens. To put this in perspective, in Telangana, the first-day share of Pushpa was pegged at over ₹11 crore from around 600-odd screens," the article stated.
The film's Hindi dubbed version is commercially successful.The Rise's Hindi version netted ₹26.50 crore in its first week, and over ₹62 crore by the end of third weekend.The Rise netted over ₹200 crore in India in two weeks, and became the seventh South India film and the second Allu Arjun film after Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo (2020) to do so. The film grossed ₹300 crore worldwide from all versions by the end of the third weekend, and emerged as the highest grossing Indian film in 2021.
In December 2021, a lawsuit was filed at a court in Andhra Pradesh against a song in the film titled "Oo Antava Mava Oo Antava" (transl. Will you say yes or will you say no?) by a certain[which?] men's association[who?]. According to them, the song portrayed men as lustful as its lyrics seemingly mock the male gaze. They also asked for a ban on the song.
Initially planned as a single film, it was later decided to make the film a two-part release. The second part titled Pushpa 2: The Rule will be release in December 2022, as announced by Sukumar. The second part will continue from the first part's story.
Although few scenes of Pushpa 2 were already filmed, the director Sukumar announced he will re-shoot the entire film, as the initial script was altered[why?].Principal photography of the film is originally scheduled in February 2022 and later it was also reported that the filming will begin in April 2022. Later, in January 2022, Mandanna confirmed that she will join the production in March 2022.