Sweet Karam Coffee, Lakshmi, Madhoo, Santhy
All the three actors, Lakshmi, Madhoo and Santhy, on which this show rest, skillfully navigate their roles. Pic: Amazon Prime

Sweet Karam Coffee review: A spirited take on 3 women's journey to recognise their self-worth

Every woman has her own journey towards self-empowerment and self-realisation. For some women, empowerment is about being financially independent, for another it may be about expressing their sexuality or for another it may be about finding their voice, to stand up for themselves.

In ‘Sweet Karam Coffee’, the new Tamil series streaming on Amazon Prime Video, three women belonging to different generations set out to explore and dive into the multi-layered, complex world of ‘freedom’ for a short time, to understand what they want out of their own ‘boxed’ lives.

The series is refreshing in some ways as it does not stray into any posturing space (as we see in so many shows on OTT platforms dealing with women’s issues) and instead strives to show women trying to find their own agency within the environment they live in. Find out what’s ‘enough’ for you, how much you are willing to stretch the conventional world you inhabit to be able to freely breathe, is what ‘Sweet Karam Coffee’ says to women. That’s a balanced and spirited view for a change.

Of course, this eight-episode series is brimming over with messages and they are not just to do with allowing women to find and revel in their identities and voices. It also brings up issues like not being judgemental about people or their relationships, how young people grapple with not being conventionally ‘pretty’, labelling people because of the jobs they hold or how cool it is to go on a trip with your ‘paati’ (grandmother) and mother and even join a biker gang with a handsome doctor on their way to Ladakh.

The series is striving to capture a changing world, changing needs and desires of young people and women. If it is all a bit too idyllic with a dreamy stopover in the natural surroundings of a village, living in tents by riversides to a romantic wedding of a foreigner couple wrapped up with happy endings, that’s not so bad is it?

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Chennai-based Niveditha (Santhy Balachandran), her mother Kaveri Rajaratnam (Madhoo of ‘Roja’ fame is back here in full form, looking divine in her sari-clad ‘I-am-just-a-mother’ avatar) and grandmother Sundari Chandrasekharan (veteran actor Lakshmi) decide to hook off on a road trip to Goa, to quell the demons raging inside them. To experience the wind on their faces, to tap into the joy of living for themselves and to find answers.

Kaveri, with her voiceless, taken-for-granted doormat persona is reluctant to shed her inhibitions. But, slowly as the road trip progresses, which eventually takes them all the way to Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh, Kaveri’s character transforms the most and she comes into her own. Her husband (Kavin Jay Babu, who is excellent as the self-centred husband who later matures into an understanding one) is anxious about his wife’s transformation and asks her tremulously on the phone, ‘Then is this the end for us?’.

She replies with an emphatic no, ‘everything will be the same for us except that I would have changed’.

Niveditha is the baby on the trip confused and torn between her passion (cricket) and her love (her boyfriend). Her boyfriend wants her to lie to his parents about her being a cricketer for he fears that they may not approve. The subterfuge deeply hurts her for she is passionate about being a cricketer.

The couple decide to take a break from their relationship and Niveditha is ready to go on a road trip to leave her problems behind. But, she meets a tall, handsome doctor-biker (Vamsi Krishna) who is a freethinking spirit and she is attracted to him. She learns to appreciate her kind mother, who is actually a singer with an amazing voice and bonds with her and pays her the ultimate compliment, by finally asking for her advice.

Sweet Karam Coffee, Madhoo and Santhy
Mother daughter bond in Sweet Karam Coffee: Nivi (Santhy) turns to her mother Kaveri (Madhoo) for advice on their road trip

Sundari, the grandmother has her own equations to work out, to iron out the compromises she had made all her life as a wife and mother. Her husband had never allowed her to ‘be’ and after his death she is only too eager to go back to her distant past and experience that brief “golden period” she had vicariously enjoyed.

Along the trip, she keeps calling her friend in the US to track down the address of a person from her past she desperately wants to reconnect with. Is it a man, a lover? And, the identity of that person is only revealed at the end. Sundari is the crazy, thrill seeking, reckless one in this family trio, even willing to drive the car all night to get to her destination, even as her daughter-in-law and granddaughter sleep. She is the one who eggs on her obedient, servile daughter-in-law to question the status quo. And, she is the one who is willing to push the boundaries since the clock is ticking for her.

Sweet Karam Coffee, Lakshmi
In Sweet Karam Coffee, Lakshmi as the spirited, risk-taking grandmom handles her role with aplomb

It’s a layered role and Lakshmi dons it with her usual savoir faire. All the three actors, on which this show rest, skillfully navigate their roles except at times when Lakshmi and Madhoo tend to act coy and overdo their cutesy moments in some scenes.

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The road trip gives the cinematographers (five of them) the scope to capture some scenic shots, especially, when they visit a temple in Bateshwar or when the three protagonists park themseles in a village for a few days. There’s also a beautifully lit-up tent scene which is fraught with tension as mother and daughter confront Sundari about returning home. If the series tends to meander mid-way and seems to drag, it corrects its course a little later and returns to the nub of the story.

‘Sweet Karam Coffee’ has multiple writers, including the producer and creator of the series, Reshma Ghatala and co-director Swati Raghuraaman. The dialogues are peppered with pithy one liners like ‘It’s never too early to know who we are’ but the story is on self-discovery so such truisms are part of the territory. What makes ‘Sweet Karam Coffee’ a good watch is that it is a warm, slice-of-life story based on a subject which needs to be told over and over again – to allow women to find their voices. And, allow them to express it and not to hold them back.

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