Allu Arjun: Pushpa 2 is my first step towards international stardom

With his Madame Tussauds wax statue unveiled in Dubai, the Indian superstar speaks to The National about the coming sequel to 2021 South Indian blockbuster

Allu Arjun unveiled his Madame Tussauds wax statue in Dubai on Thursday. Photo: Madame Tussauds
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When Pushpa: The Rise was released in December 2021 in India, it became an instant hit. As the highest-grossing movie of the year on the subcontinent, the absorbing three-hour action-thriller became one of history's most lucrative Telugu-language films.

Pushpa has definitely raised the bar for me personally,” admits Allu Arjun, who plays the title role. “That’s one of the best surprises. It is my personal league jumper.”

Arjun, who won Best Actor at India’s National Film Awards for his work, has now seen his career elevated thanks to Pushpa: The Rise.

One key sign of his rise internationally happened on Thursday in Dubai, as he unveiled his wax statue at Madame Tussauds, becoming the first actor from South India to receive the honour. On the night, he paid tribute to another one of his biggest hits, wearing a red jacket reminiscent of his performance in the boardroom dance scene from the film Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo.

"I can't believe that now I have a wax figure, I never would have believed it!" Arjun tells The National. "Seeing this figure, I feel immensely grateful and humbled. It's incredibly realistic, almost like looking in a mirror."

Pushpa, meanwhile, tells the story of a labourer named Puspha Raj, who rises through the ranks of a gang of red sandalwood smugglers to eventually take control of the entire syndicate.

“I really resonated with the fact that the character is like a dark horse,” Arjun adds. “He’s a nobody. From a nobody to becoming a don is the character graph that we’re interested in.”

When I meet Arjun, 41, he is preparing for the launch of the sequel, Pushpa 2: The Rule, which is due to his cinemas in India on August 15, when the country celebrates Independence Day.

“It is the most awaited film in India,” beams Arjun, who is due to finish shooting in April.

If the first part was “about the rise” of the character, this second instalment is about what happens when he has risen. “You have a lot of antagonists – you’re fighting the law, you’re fighting the government,” he says. “There’s so many challenges for him to face.”

With Pushpa: The Rise a success in various territories, including the UAE and the US, Arjun is convinced both this and the sequel will play to even wider international audiences.

“It’s got so much uniqueness,” he says. “We have an interval, which most films don’t have. We have songs, and then you break into action, and then you break into drama, and then you break into love. And it’s multiple genres in one film. That’s a very original Indian format. I think that will be our USP – it will be very exotic for people from overseas to watch.”

Certainly, the songs from Pushpa: The Rise have spread worldwide, particularly Oo Antava, which has been remixed by DJs around the globe.

“People did not even know this was from a movie, they just knew the song,” says Arjun. “Even when I go to a club, they don’t even know who I am. But that song keeps playing.”

Likewise the dialogue. "Pushpa does not mean flower, Pushpa is fire" – that is the most quoted line in the film, according to Arjun, who hears it wherever he goes. “I can’t walk without passing by that line!”

Originally, Pushpa began as one film, until Arjun, director Sukumar and the team at Mythri Movie Makers decided to split the epic production in two. “As we were making the film, we realised we had to make two films to be able to tell the story at its best,” says Arjun, who already has plans for a third instalment. “We’re looking at this film like a franchise film,” he promises.

With audiences familiar with Pushpa and the others in the story, “now it’s time to play with the characters,” he adds.

Already, Pushpa: The Rise has found a life on Amazon’s streaming platform Prime Video, and it has the potential to follow S S Rajamouli’s epic tale of revolutionaries, RRR, which became a global phenomenon, even winning an Oscar for Best Original Song.

“Honestly, what RRR did for Indian cinema was phenomenal, because it has opened doors for everybody to walk through,” Arjun says. “One example does give a lot of hope to the others, that they can have a similar success, or they can have a similar journey as well. And so, with all due credit to Mr Rajamouli, and all due respect to the actors, it did open up the doors for Indian cinema, in a big way.”

A former regional actor, based in Hyderabad, Arjun was born into the industry. His father, Allu Aravind, is known as one of the most successful producers in South Indian cinema, while his grandfather Allu Ramalingaiah was a noted film comedian, appearing in over a thousand movies.

“It’s a family business,” smiles Arjun, whose fame has eclipsed them all. “At least in the northern parts [of India], I did have a little more privacy because most of my movies were watched in the South,” he reasons. “But now....”

Of course, rather like the character of Pushpa, Arjun is planning for even greater expansion. The next thing on the agenda? Breaking into English-language cinema.

“I do aspire to do international films,” he says. Does he have an American agent? “All that is in the pipeline,” he assures. “I think a lot of it will amplify with Pushpa 2.”

If the film goes global, as he hopes, then world domination beckons.

Pushpa: The Rise is available on Prime Video

Updated: March 29, 2024, 8:08 AM