Review: ‘Bubblegum’ (2023), starring Roshan Kanakala and Manasa Chowdary

January 11, 2024

by Carla Hay

Roshan Kanakala and Manasa Chowdary in “Bubblegum” (Photo by Varnikha Visuals)

“Bubblegum” (2023)

Directed by Rajkumar Hirani

Telugu with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Hyderabad, India, the dramatic film “Bubblegum” features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: An aspiring nightclub/party DJ from a working-class family has a romance with a wealthy aspiring fashion designer, but their relationship is plagued by insecurities over their class differences and jealousy over real or imagined love rivals.

Culture Audience: “Bubblegum” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching a sprawling love story that has emotionally realistic portrayals of the ups and downs of a youthful romance.

Manasa Chowdary and Roshan Kanakala in “Bubblegum” (Photo by Varnikha Visuals)

In a world where movies about romance usually have an easy and obvious conclusion, Bubblegum is a drama that’s commendable for being an engaging story with an unpredictable ending. The screenplay, cinematography and music are the movie’s best qualities. Even though “Bubblegum” has some melodrama (including some over-the-top fight scenes and epic musical numbers), it’s an emotionally authentic depiction of young love at a time when most people are starting to figure out what they want to do with their lives.

Directed by Ravikanth Perepu, “Bubblegum” takes place in Hyderabad, India, during one year in the lives of two young people who fall passionately in love with each other. Perepu co-wrote the “Bubblegum” screenplay with Vishnu Kondur and Seri-Ganni. The movie has some comedic and light-hearted moments, but most of the story is about the intense highs and lows of these two lovers.

Aditya, nicknamed Adi (played by Roshan Kanakala), is a 22-year-old aspiring DJ who lives with his parents. Adi does some part-time work as a DJ at nightclubs and parties, but his goal is to become a full-time professional DJ and a recording artist who makes original music. In the meantime, Adi works at a butcher meat shop (which sells mostly chicken), a small business that’s owned and operated by his father (played by Chaitu Jonnalagadda), who frequently scolds Adi about Adi’s dream to become a successful DJ.

Adi likes to sleep later than most people (especially when he’s had a late night working as a DJ), but Adi’s father sees it as Adi being lazy. Adi’s father only employs Adi at the meat shop to let Adi earn some extra money, but he can see that Adi isn’t very good at this job because Adi isn’t passionate about it. In an early scene in the movie, Adi’s father tells him to do something “useful” with his life, and then later says, “I’m giving you six months to find a proper job.” Adi’s homemaker mother (played by Bindu Chandramouli) is much more supportive of Adi pursuing his dream, and she urges her husband not to be so judgmental of Adi.

Adi has two sidekick friends who are some of the movie’s comic relief: Asif (played by Kiran Macha) and Bujji (played by Anannyaa Akulaa), who sometimes join Adi in getting into mischief fights with other guys. The movie opens with one of these fight scenes, where Adi gets into a brawl with a local bully named Wasim, who ends up breaking Adi’s boombox during this melee. Another guy named Sankranth (played by Harsha Chemudu), who is on the fringes of Adi’s clique, is often treated like a weird nerd when he tries to get closer to this tight-knit trio.

One night, Adi is DJ’ing at a local nightspot when he sees the woman who will become his girlfriend. Her name is Jhanvi (played by Manasa Chowdary), who is also 22 years old. Jhanvi and Adi make eye contact with each other. The attraction is immediate, but Adi gets into an embarrassing situation when his DJ set suddenly ends because an electrical short circuit makes his turntable malfunction.

Jhanvi comes from a wealthy family. Her parents, who are progressive liberals, have been an unmarried couple for 25 years. Jhanvi’s father (played by Harsh Vardhan) is some type of business mogul. Jhanvi’s mother (played by Anu Hasan) is very educated and operates a yoga retreat in Goa. They both support Jhanvi’s dream to become a fashion designer. In the beginning of the movie, Jhanvi finds out that she’s been accepted into two fashion design schools: one in the Italian city of Milan, and the other in Turkey. She chooses to accept the enrollment at the school in Turkey, because it’s closer to India.

Adi and Jhanvi see each other again when she’s at a party where he’s the DJ. This time, she strikes up a conversation with him by complimenting him on his DJ skills. After the party, Adi and Jhanvi see each other outdoors at a nearby park and talk some more. They tell each other a little bit about their families and backgrounds. He correctly guesses that she’s a fashion student because of her fashion sense. Before they say good night, Jhanvi kisses Adi. It’s the beginning of their topsy-turvy romance.

The rest of “Bubblegum” shows what happens as Jhanvi and Adi try to maintain their romance during several obstacles and struggles. The differences in their family backgrounds become a strain on their relationship, especially when Adi is made to feel ashamed by certain people because Jhanvi has a lot more money than he does and has been buying him high-priced gifts. Jhanvi and Adi have other differences in their lifestyles: She’s a strict vegan, while he’s an enthusiastic meat eater. There’s also the matter about how Adi and Jhanvi are going to handle Jhanvi moving to Turkey for fashion school.

Jealousy also factors into their relationship problems. Jhanvi has an ex-boyfriend named Joel (played by “Bubblegum” co-writer Kondur), a rich ne’er-do-well, who makes Adi feel very insecure about himself because Joel is wealthy. Jhanvi broke up with Joel because he cheated on her, but Adi still worries that Jhanvi might get back together with Joel for caste reasons. Meanwhile, Jhanvi finds out in the worst way possible that her best friend Tharan (played by Anu Hasan) is attracted to Adi.

There are some moments in the movie that look like a soap opera, but not in the worst ways. A few scenes are overacted (especially the scenes where someone flies into a jealous rage), but the cast members handle their performances well, for the most part. In portraying “opposite attract” lovers, Kanakala and Chowdary have believable chemistry together, which is crucial for viewers to be interested in caring about what happens to Adi and Jhanvi. The movie also explores some of the gender double standards in relationships, when it comes sexist expectations that men should be the “dominant” partner in a male-female romance and should be the one who makes more money.

The scenes taking place at nightclubs and parties are electrifying and can easily convince viewers why this atmosphere is intoxicating for Jhanvi and Adi during their romance. Suresh Ragutu’s cinematography excels during these scenes. Sricharan Pakala’s musical score (a lot of electronic dance music and hip-hop) is a memorable and catchy backdrop that’s the perfect complement to this energetic movie. The movie’s soundtrack is also well-suited for the story. The anthemic “Izzat” (written by Pakala and performed by MC Hari featuring “Bubblegum” star Kanakala) is the obvious standout song, since it’s in pivotal scenes.

At one point in the movie, viewers find out why the film’s title is “Bubblegum.” Asif tells Adi and Bujji: “Love is like bubblegum. It’s sweet, and then it sticks.” Just like its namesake, this “Bubblegum” movie could easily be perceived as being lightweight and disposable, but it’s also enjoyable and it can stick in a viewer’s memory in a good way.

Varnikha Visuals released “Bubblegum” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on December 29, 2023.

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