Directors: Krishna Marimuthu, Swathi Raghuraaman, Bejoy Nambiar
Cast: Lakshmi, Madhoo, Santhy Balachandran
Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video
The experience of watching Sweet Kaaram Coffee, the new eight-episode mini-series on Amazon Prime Video, is a lot like a long road trip that covers the entire length of the country. It’s a journey with interesting pitstops, frustrating detours and bittersweet interactions with strangers that remind one of not-so-smooth travels that end with as many happy memories as sad. The starting point sets the tone strongly for the kind of road movie we seldom get to see. Not only does this trip get three women in and out of trouble but it also works as a study of three generations. With each of these characters getting flashbacks and their own individual sub-plots, Sweet Kaaram Coffee gets us to see its world through the present, the past and the future.
An example of this comes in the form of a very casual conversation between Sundari (a lovely Lakshmi) and her daughter-in-law Kaveri (Madhoo). We just about know them at this point and we haven’t yet gathered much beyond the fact that they are two women who live in a regular, conservative upper-middle-class household in Chennai. So when Sundari casually starts asking her daughter-in-law about her son’s sexual prowess, you can’t help but break into uncontrollable laughter. We do not see such a conversation coming but you surely understand how these two could never have had the opportunity for this dialogue if not for such a trip.
It is in such moments that it also becomes a show about freedom, even though it never spells it out in as many words. When the three women from the same family decide to go on this trip, just to get away from it all, you also see the other side of it when the two men get stuck at home. This role reversal result in equally funny interactions, even if it’s of the darker kind. One such is the conversation between father and son about their own respective smoking habits. But the one that lasts longer in memory is the expression on the father’s face right after he has cooked a big meal for his son. He takes the effort to get back to cooking after decades but the son’s nonchalance as he dismisses his labour of love works so well because it underscores the plight of the women who live here even without using a shot of them.
The show continues to surprise you with sudden bursts of perceptive writing, even if you’re not fully content with the scenes that follow or the ones that precede it. Take for instance a lovely flashback that reveals a lot about Nivi (Santhy Balachandran), the youngest of the three and Sundari’s granddaughter. We sense the events that may have happened in her past resulting in her reaction when her boyfriend refuses to acknowledge her career as a cricket player. Yet you have to wait almost till the end of the show to see why this is so triggering for her. In a moving scene that reminds you of the high school world of the showrunner’s own (Reshma Gatalla) Neethaane En Ponvasantham (2012) we get to see a boy “bro-zoning” Nivi and the years of self-doubt this event goes on to create in her. The predictable idea would have been to complete the arc with Nivi getting sweet revenge by turning herself into a chiffon-saree goddess, a lot like the finale Kajol gets in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998). But in Sweet Karam, Nivi gets to hold her ground and be who she wants to be without sacrificing her love for cricket, denim or sneakers.
But it’s the frustrating detours that really take us away from these lovely characters. We get an episode that is set amidst a music festival and this results in a friendship that develops between Nivi and a biker dude. At first, you feel there’s potential in their interactions and you also need a romance angle when you’re dealing with Nivi’s recent heartbreak. Yet this friendship never goes beyond the absolute surface. We not only get almost zero chemistry between these actors but you also feel a lack of life in the way the biker’s character has been written. Not only is he a biker dude but he’s also super handsome, a royal and a great doctor; put him in a pair of palazzo pants and he comes across more like a motivational Insta post rather than a living, breathing character.
Similarly distracting are a series of other detours which includes an episode that revolves around music. At this point, you barely get a sense of just how important music is to Kaveri and for an episode to be written around her love for it takes us away from the show’s central conflicts. Even otherwise, I found myself struggling to connect with Kaveri. She seems to be the one who gets a lot of screen time but with a lot of confusing writing going into her character. So even when she gets her full transformation, you’re not able to make up your mind about what really has changed and what hasn’t. Another aspect about her that keeps her at a distance is just how perfect she looks in every frame. Even when she wakes up in a beaten-up old car in the middle of nowhere, her perfect sarees and even more perfect makeup dilute the tension of the scene.
Yet the best moments remain with Lakshmi, who is a real vibe as Sundari. Not only does she light up regular scenes but it’s her conflict that remains a through-line right from the first episode. With suspense and well-imagined distractions, her resolutions too work out in ways you’d never imagine. With an overall dullness otherwise, Sweet Karam Coffee needed more consistency in its writing to keep us hooked right through its super long runtime. You might love some of the pitstops in this journey, but are they really worth the long, backbreaking travel to get there?