Santhy Balachandran: Meet Nivi From Sweet Karam Coffee!

Her crossover from Oxford to Amazon Prime !

Passion is what drives all of us towards our goals. For some, it aligns with our existing path, for others, it’s a leap of faith. For Santhy, it was an offer to do a play that ignited the actor in her. Sweet Karam Coffee is streaming in all homes, it’s an intergenerational story that appeals to every woman, age no bar. A slice-of-life road trip series that takes you through the character’s adventures. Speaking to Santhy, our dearest Nivi, we found out more about her expedition into the world of movies and OTT. 


Santhy was doing her post graduation at Oxford University after which she came down to India for a break. She auditioned for a play and during the process, she realised that she had an underlying passion for acting. “I’ve always felt passionate about art. Even in my childhood, I was always interested in performance and anything artistic, like writing or painting but had never seriously considered it as a career. I was more into academics. But once I did the play, I felt that it was something that brought me joy. I enjoyed how collaborative the space is, you learn a lot when you’re working on a play or even in a movie. I decided to see where it goes and here I am.”


Because of the play, Santhy got a call to audition for a Malayalam film, Tharangam with Tovino Thomas. She took the plunge because of a lot of reasons, she was excited to work on a movie, the role was interesting and she was testing the waters. “So, even though Tharangam was released first, I had another movie which was an independent film that I worked on simultaneously. Tharangam was interesting because it’s a quirky, dark comedy where I played a kleptomaniac. The movies I acted in have mostly been in the experimental genre. This gave me an opportunity to explore different characters and work on unconventional scripts.”  From Djinn which was released this year to Aaha, Santhy has grown as an actor with every project. 

Gulmohar on Hotstar was another popular film that Santhy was a part of. The movie did exceptionally well, and the story is similar to Sweet Karam Coffee in many ways. “Gulmohar gave me an opportunity to work with some legendary actors like Sharmila Tagore, Manoj Bajpayee, and Simran Ma’am. And side by side, I was shooting for Sweet Karam Coffee where I got to work with Lakshmi Ma’am and Madhoo Ma’am. Gulmohar was my first stint in Hindi, the story was also one that explored intergenerational relationships. The movie-making experience was heartwarming because we all bonded so well and that warmth translated on screen. It even won the award for the most watched film in the digital space.”


With the OTT space opening up, it’s a great time for actors because of the kind of stories that are being told, and the kind of content that’s being produced. Language is no barrier for Santhy, she has explored Hindi, Malayalam and now with Sweet Karam Coffee, even Tamil. She shares with us her experience of working on a show for the first time. 


“It was a really wonderful opportunity for me because it’s a long format, so you get to travel with the character for a number of episodes. Before that, I hadn’t got a chance to do something like this. Sometimes, I still wonder how I got Sweet Karam coffee, but I remember the call I received one evening from one of the Assistant Directors. He just told me that they were making a show which features Lakshmi Ma’am and Madhoo Ma’am, and they were looking for the third lead character. And I was like “Of course I’ll do it!’ And I couldn’t have asked for a better team to work with.”

When we asked her if she was intimidated working with the two uber-talented actresses, this is what she had to say. “I wasn’t intimidated, I was really excited. I was thrilled to meet these actors who had played such iconic characters, there was so much to learn. Lakshmi Ma’am has worked across languages, and Madhoo Ma’am is envied for all the roles that she’s done. They never treated me like I was a junior. The dynamic between the three of us, which a lot of people are appreciating how we come across on screen, says that we exude lived-in chemistry. Our relationship developed very organically. They are also voracious readers, so we had so many other things in common apart from cinema. It was very inspiring to be around them.”


When we watch Sweet Karam Coffee, we can’t help but wonder if Nivi was a fragment of her personality. She played the part perfectly, her emotions, insecurities, and ambitions were portrayed in the purest and rawest form.

“ There are things that are similar, for example, she is an emotional person who lives inside her head. Her conflicts are very internal, we are both sort of introverted in that sense. I connect with her that way. On the other hand, I’m not an athletic person. Sports has never been my forte. But I was excited to explore the character in every way.” 


Travel was an important part of the show, the story was shot in various locations to retain its authenticity. “ We had schedules in Madhya Pradesh, travelled to the border of Rajasthan, we went to Agra for the Taj Mahal, and because of that, you see a wide range of terrain on the show. The visual appeal is unmatched when you see the characters take a physical journey through the show.”

Are you overwhelmed with the response that the show is getting or the love that your character is receiving?

“It’s been gratifying to read the messages and the love pouring in online. People have felt that connection with Nivi. She is the youngest in the trio but her struggles are very relatable. She has been given the freedom by her parents to pursue a career of her choice but she has insecurities, doubts and an internal conflict. People are loving how Sundari’s entire journey is undertaken to see her long-lost best friend- it celebrates the importance of companionship and upends the expectation of a heteronormative relationship being the ultimate goal.

What’s next for you?

I’ve just finished shooting for an independent Malayalam film which is directed by Shalini Ushadevi, who won the National Film Award for Best Screenplay for Soorarai Pottru. It is her directorial. 


The series has been receiving a lot of love because of its intergenerational appeal. While someone might relate to Nivi, somebody else might connect with Kaveri or Sundari. Women have felt represented in the show, they are seeing their stories. It’s not every day that there is an entire series dedicated to women and their journeys, physical and emotional. While the makers have waited really long to share this, it’s out now, watch it with your mother, sisters or your girl gang!


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