The Golden Bachelor: Is India ready for mature romances?

The chemistry between Dharmendra and Shabana Azmi in the latest Karan Johar film ‘Rocky aur Rani’ suggests that Indian audiences are beginning to recognise that older people don’t just have a pulse, they actually have a heart!

Vinati Sukhdev Nov 30, 2023
Dharmendra and Shabana Azmi in the latest Karan Johar film ‘Rocky aur Rani’

In modern America, a society that has taken systematic steps to dismantle sexism, ableism, racism, binary gender and body image issues, it was high time that ageism was tackled. So the premiere of the much-awaited Golden Bachelor TV series was a closely watched event. Based on the popular Bachelor franchise, it is a reality show where multiple women vie for the attention and love of a single man over several days and dates (pun intended). Except, in this case, the man is a 72-year-old restaurateur called Gerry and the women are all between the ages of 60 and 75.

So a great idea to start with; and the fact that the series premiered at 11.2 million viewers was the most watched debut for a Bachelor franchise, made it an instant success. Given that women of a certain age feel invisible and unheard, having a platform could only be a good thing. And by showing older people discover love and romance, they were offering hope to everybody. Hey, we all need more than a walker to lean on!  

However, seven episodes in, I am a little disappointed. Part of the problem is the competitive hotbed format which remains unchanged from the original series which is firmly pegged to youth. Bunking 22 contestants ( yes, bunk beds!) in a house with one goal and one man is enough to morph even the gentlest and most mature women into the sort of skittish stereotypes expected in the series. The Bachelor franchise is not known for its intellect and while I am assured the tensions between the ‘ golden’ women are nothing like the catfights on the other versions of The Bachelor, they are bad enough and downright shameful for women of a certain age. I am not advocating the contestants give other women a free pass but as a woman of a certain age, I am not proud of a bunch of impossibly slim, impossibly taut, and frighteningly fraught women who battle it out for a man of questionable credentials.

Ladies, get a grip. On that pickleball racket preferably, and swat him down with a firm ‘C’mon Gerry, make up your mind!’

Why more widows than divorcees

Gerry’s most profound discovery on the show ( courtesy a lady contestant, not his own) is a sentence he delivers with the kind of awe that is normally reserved for miracles in the Bible belt where he comes from, ‘Don’t go for the woman you can live with, go for the woman you can’t live without!’

Really? It has taken you 72 years and someone else’s words to discover this?

He also sheds some tears when he talks about his late wife which is kind of cute and also when he weeds out women at the end of each episode during the soul-crushing, hope-dashing rose ceremony. Hey Gerry, you can be gallant without being a crybaby. Or you can be upfront and roar ‘ I don’t like my dwindling pool of mates – can’t I get to keep them all?’

On a more serious note, what I missed most of all through the series were ‘grown-up conversations.’ With older people who are considering a partner/companion and not raising families, you would expect certain topics to be discussed: separate vs common living arrangements, the legal and financial implications of marriage vs living together; geographical relocation and the tugs and pulls of adult children. Yet nothing like this ever came up in the fairy tale castle where marriage is the ultimate and only fairy tale ending.

Likewise, the hometown visits to the families of the final three contestants were picture-perfect: rosy-cheeked grandkids, supportive adult children and loyal friends. I know it is the format, but one would expect to see the scars of history and a life well lived, not just bows and ribbons. Having said that, Theresa’s cheeky grandson may have won her the ultimate prize by imitating the pouting face she makes when she poses for selfies! It was the one standout moment in the entire hometown episode.

I also wondered why most of the lady contestants were widows rather than divorcees. Especially in a country where 50 per cent of marriages end in divorce. Is it still a bad word? Or would our Golden Bachelor be scared away by the combative fierceness of women who have ‘failed to keep a marriage going?’ Is he satisfied dipping into a pool of hapless victims who had the love of their lives snatched away by destiny? Instead of fishing in the troubled waters of unhappy relationships? Maybe women who have been through unhappy marriages understand a bit more about life and love and relationships. Like many other viewers, I was left wondering about unanswered questions like these. 

Matches for seniors

As for India, I feel the time has come to give matches for seniors some serious thought. With life expectancy rising and more marriages ending in divorce than ever before, there may be a new series for Mumbai matchmaker Sima Aunty here: Indian matchmaking meets Abhi to main jawan hoon.

The chemistry between Dharmendra and Shabana Azmi in the latest Karan Johar film ‘Rocky aur Rani’ suggests that Indian audiences are beginning to recognise that older people don’t just have a pulse, they actually have a heart!

Think of the advantages:  grumpy mothers-in-law given to finding faults with their daughters-in-law could be sent to spas and nail salons to prepare for dates. Saas bhi kabhi bahu thi may lose a few episodes here but there could be a whole new family of Golden Bachelor and Bachelorette series. After all, India was the birthplace of the 'swayamvar' tradition where a bride picks from a pool of eligible men.  If Sita could do it in the Ramayana, then so can Gita and Rita and Nita. And if Savitri wants to leave the whole Sati thing behind, more power to her too.

Already the senior scene in India is beginning to look glamorous. Helped along by cosmetic procedures, better exercise and wellness routines, and just more pizzazz, our older Bollywood actresses are looking great. Far from fading into the furniture, Sharmila, Rekha and Hema Malini are setting the bar high for Indian women. 

Most Indian men have to catch up, but the evergreen Jeetendra and Anil Kapoor have hairlines and waistlines they can be proud of. So older Indian singles looking for love have good-looking role models to start with. And sooner or later, the older profile photos on dating apps will begin to reflect this. Attitudes are shifting. Cuddly 'nanis' and 'dadis' are out, glamorous grandmas are in - and they are thin! Amitabh Bachchan, at 81, is a TV and screen celebrity who still makes the hearts of many women flutter with his impeccable beard and chic jamevar shawls.

Whether we talk about it facetiously or not, given the changing demographics and constantly evolving social mores, older singles looking for romance in India will not be unusual. So fasten your seatbelts and look at aunties and uncles with renewed interest. Life can be unkind sometimes, but that doesn’t mean older people have to be condemned to a solitary and lonely existence. Old is gold and remember, nobody loves gold as much as Indians do! Time for the Golden Bachelor Season in India – I can just see the credits rolling with the title song Sona kitna sona hai!

(The author is currently a 2022 DCI Fellow at Stanford University USA. She lives in London and is the author of East or West: An NRI Mum’s Manual On Bringing Up Desi Children Overseas. Views are personal)

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Abhijit Roy
Fri, 12/01/2023 - 00:29
Great attempt
Fri, 12/01/2023 - 03:32
Hmmm. What took you so long Vinati!
Good article.
Dinesh Verma
Fri, 12/01/2023 - 07:46
Great article, evoking both a rational and an emotional response to change mindset of society. I love Vinati's astute observation "older people don’t just have a pulse, they actually have a heart!" Very well said 👏

Cmde Ajith V Kumar
Fri, 12/01/2023 - 12:20
Really liked the piece. It's got great significance in today's context, with shrinking family profile