Sweet Kaaram Coffee is an equal-part serving of sugar, spice and bitterness. Created by Reshma Ghatala, the Tamil-language Prime Video show is an engaging exploration of three generations of affluent women in the throes of frustration, remorse, guilt and a yearning for freedom.
The cast includes the acting legend Lakshmi, Roja star Madhoo, and Santhy (recently seen in Gulmohar). Although the series surrounds the trio with male actors, it keeps the concerns of the women at the centre, gifting them the best lines and most memorable moments.
The recently widowed Sundari (Lakshmi) lives with her son Rajaratnam (Kavin Jay Babu), her daughter-in-law Kaveri (Madhoo), her grandson Bala (Bala Suresh) and her granddaughter Niveditha (Santhy). While the household is notionally oriented towards Sundari’s needs, it is Rajaratnam’s writ that runs large and Bala who gets more attention than his sister.
A promising cricketer, Niveditha is seeing Karthik (Dev). His cavalier attitude towards Niveditha coincides with Sundari’s desire to meet a figure from her past. Granddaughter and grandmother all but kidnap Kaveri into accompanying them on a road trip.
Absence certainly makes the heart grow fonder. Rajaratnam and Bala, suddenly bereft of the women who have been running their lives, re-examine their relationship with each other.
The secondary actors include Vikram, a hunky doctor made up to resemble the Tamil actor Vikram and played by Vamsi Krishna like a nicer version of Arjun Reddy. There are cameos by Sampa Mandal, Padmavati Rao, Alex O’Nell, Ayesha Kapur, Vikram Kapadia and Ritwik Bhowmik.
Referring to the adventure that awaits them, Sundari breezily remarks that a boat can move only when all its rowers paddle steadily – one of many ironic statements from Sundari, given that she is the one rocking the boat. Sundari jolts the neurotic Kaveri out of her stupor as well as nudges Niveditha closer to her ambition, even as she gears up to face an unresolved dilemma.
The question does arise about why Sundari has waited this long to compel Kaveri to question her servitude towards Rajaratnam. The only obvious answer is that were it not for Sundari’s heavily delayed feminist awakening, we wouldn’t have had this show in the first place.
The series has been written by Vinithra Madhavan Menon, Swathi Raghuraaman and Krishnaswamy Ramkumar. (The Tamil dialogue is by Siva Ananth). Raghuraaman, Bejoy Nambiar and Krishna Marimuthu have directed the eight episodes.
Like most web series, Sweet Kaaram Coffee could have reached its destination sooner. The cliff-hanger ending promises the further revelation of the skeletons that burst out of closets at regular intervals.
The escapade is littered with flashbacks, fantasy sequences, song interludes and corny moments that result from a wedding and an encounter with an idealised rural couple. With a seemingly unlimited travel budget, the women traipse from one colourful festival to the next. These hippy-dippy events, which are meant to serve as precipitating incidents for the women, are never quite as affecting or honest as the soul-baring conversations they have with each other.
Despite its wandering ways, the series does very well by its unholy trinity. The writing and staging move dexterously between the three women, uncovering emotional truths about the roles they have been forced to play along the way.
The actors have a lived-in chemistry, which makes them utterly convincing as members of a family unit. Lakshmi is a riot as the hip grandma who is beyond caring for social niceties; Santhy is a compelling mix of sensitivity and ambivalence; Madhoo frequently nails Kaveri’s turmoil.
Perhaps the most interesting arc belongs to Kaveri, who is petrified of stepping out of her comfort zone as well as anguished by her choices. Among the three women, Kaveri is arguably the worst off, treated by Rajaratnam like a glorified maid and patronised even by Sundari and Niveditha.
The show is too busy embracing wholesomeness to deny Rajaratnam the redemption that seems to come so easily to him. Kavin Jay Babu’s warm performance makes Rajaratnam misguided rather than chauvinistic. Yet, Sweet Kaaram Coffee allows bitterness to linger amidst the saccharine. The suggested second season might offer a greater opportunity to understand whether the women have reached a new place or have simply come full circle.