Allu Arjun

Source: Kurt Kriger

Allu Arjun at an event in Berlin to celebrate ‘Pushpa’

Indian star Allu Arjun was in Berlin this week for a screening of his 2021 blockbuster Pushpa: The Rise – Part 1 and to talk up the highly-anticipated sequel.

Producers from Mythri Movie Makers met with buyers during the European Film Market (EFM) to discuss securing distribution for Pushpa 2: The Rule, which is in the middle of filming and is due to open theatrically on August 15 ahead of a release on Netflix.

Arjun also attended a fan screening in Berlin of the first film, which became India’s biggest box office title of 2021 and won the star best actor at the country’s National Film Awards. The Telegu-language feature follows the rise of Pushpa, a labourer who rises through the ranks of a red sandalwood smuggling syndicate, making powerful enemies in the process.

Directed by Sukumar, the film was picked up by international audiences on streaming platform Prime Video following its theatrical run. Arjun spoke to Screen about how streamers have transformed the distribution chain for India cinema, the current state of filmmaking in the country, what to expect from the sequel and how a third instalment is in the pipeline.

Pushpa helped get audiences back into cinemas [post-pandemic] in December 2021. Just over two years later, what do you think is the state of Indian cinema right now?
Any business in the country depends on the stability of the government and the Indian government is so stable right now and everything in India is progressing strongly. I see the trajectory of growth in the country being extremely good, which is going to affect every industry in India, predominantly Indian cinema. Also, OTT services mean that people globally are used to watching films from all over the world. So I think Indian cinema will go through a booming phase in the next 10 years. In 10 years, Indian cinema will be one of the biggest faces in world cinema.

How do you feel streaming platforms like Netflix have changed international audiences?
They play a big part and have opened up the international doors for us. Now, Indian content can be watched from anywhere in the world. Previously, these films could only be seen widely during their theatrical release so the distribution chain was not our strength. Today, films that are major successes in India also repeat this success all over the world. It means global audiences are becoming familiar with our actors, directors, films and culture. It is how Korean dramas have been watched all over the world. They are a great inspiration for us. We want to make the same impact.

I understand this is your first time at a film festival. What are you looking to take away from the experience?
Yes, it’s my first film festival so Berlin will always be a very memorable one. I want to gain a deeper understanding of how the market actually works and you can only do that by getting into the field. We can then return to get better exposure and exhibit more Indian cinema in areas like these.

Do you already have your next festival visit planned?
We want to make our presence felt at Cannes as well, by which time we will have finished filming Pushpa 2 [The Rule].

What can audiences expect from Pushpa 2?
The first Pushpa was about a labourer and how he got up the ladder – his rise. Pushpa 2 is about the challenges he faces once he is in that spot, in his position as a ‘don’. The challenges he faces from politicians, the law and his other enemies in the business. There is a lot of drama in the film and it will be on a bigger scale. The challenges are a lot bigger and the expectations [on the film] are a lot bigger as well [laughs]. The poster for Pushpha 2 reveals there is a very different look that Pushpa has – a very devotional angle. That is going to be a new dimension.

How is this new film presenting fresh challenges to you as an actor?
In this movie, as much as he is an alpha male, there is a certain culture in India where you do cross-dressing for devotional purposes and Pushpa does the same as well. For me to do that was quite challenging as a person and as an actor. The logistics are also quite challenging because we need to have an Indian sari, a traditional woman’s attire, and doing action sequences and performances with all the jewellery on is quite challenging.

Might the franchise extend to a third film?
There’s a very high probability. We want to do Pushpa 3 but we are keeping the idea open-ended. It depends of the success of Pushpa 2 and what people liked. We’ll learn what people really like and cater to that as well as offering something new to keep building this franchise. Sukumar is a brilliant director and I’m sure will come up with a dimension nobody will expect. The surprise is perhaps the most important part.