Dinesh Raheja column: Why do May-December matches ignite a backlash?

Malaika Arora (45) has summarily dismissed rumours of her marriage to Arjun Kapoor (33) in Goa this week. Hopefully, the unsparing trolls on social media will now give her a temporary respite for daring to allegedly date a man 12 years younger to her. The trolls have already had a field day chopping Piggy Chops (Priyanka Chopra, 36) to bits for marrying the younger-by-10-years international singer Nick Jonas (26) amidst a lot of pomp and pageantry at Taj Umaid Bhawan Palace in Jodhpur. An international magazine has speculated that the Chopra-Jonas marriage is already on the rocks but reportedly the couple has emphatically refuted the rumours.

Dinesh Raheja column: Why do May-December matches ignite a backlash?

If one were to do a gender reversal, there have also been many instances of older men marrying younger women in the Hindi film industry. The most glaring age difference was between the ’60s beauty queen Saira Banu and the tragedy king, Dilip Kumar. She was 22 and he was 44 in 1966 when Saira married her teenage crush whom she now refers to as Yusuf saab. Their marriage survived the Asma chapter after Saira sharpened her talons and fought tooth and nail to bring the straying thespian back into the marital fold; and today, she is his pillar of strength during an elongated period of failing health.

When Rajesh Khanna married the teenaged Bobby sensation Dimple Kapadia, she was 16 while he was 31. Despite siring two daughters, Twinkle and Rinky, and Dimple shunning the limelight and abdicating her promising career as an actress, their marriage culminated in a bitter separation within a decade.

Dinesh Raheja column: Why do May-December matches ignite a backlash?

Producer Rajiv Rai nipped the Tirchi Topiwali actress Sonam’s career in the bud when he whisked her away from the studios and made her his wife. He had directed Sonam in Tridev and Vishwaatma and had been enamoured with her through the making of these two films. He was 36 while she was barely 19. I had interviewed them at Rajiv’s palatial Napean Sea Road apartment days before they married. We had dinner together and I had taken cake and champagne for this special occasion. But their marriage wilted in a few years. Reportedly, Sonam has resettled today and is happily married while Rajiv, single now, spends a lot of time globe-trotting.

Like Rajiv Rai, many other older directors had been smitten by their much-younger actresses to whom they played Pygmalion. Veteran V Shantaram, made a spate of classics featuring his third wife, Sandhya (Do Aankhen Barah Haath, Jhanak

Dinesh Raheja column: Why do May-December matches ignite a backlash?

Jhanak Payal Baaje, Navrang). She was 31 years younger to him but they had a rock steady marriage possibly because they were absorbed in their collaborative creativity. Sandhya acted only with Shantaram and didn’t venture outside the Rajkamal banner.

She has outlived Shantaram, popularly known as Anna Saab, and at 87 years of age lives harmoniously with Shantaram’s family. Similarly, Kishore Kumar had a happy seven-year-long marriage with actress Leena Chandavarkar despite their 21-year age difference.

There are May-December marriages that have survived the age difference and there are marriages that haven’t. So, why is there such a hullabaloo when an older woman or man chooses a younger spouse? The odds are even more heavily stacked when the woman is older in the relationship. She is labelled a cougar or an aunty with a toy boy. If the roles are reversed the man is labelled a cradle snatcher and his partner a trophy wife. Interestingly Saif has been in both situations — the younger man married to the older woman and the older man married to a younger woman.

Amrita Singh was 33 years old when Saif married her at the age of 21 in 1990 and he was 42 years old when he married the 32-year old Kareena Kapoor in 2012. Aside: Like in the Rajiv-Sonam marriage, I had taken a cake and champagne to Amrita and Saif’s home too when I had interviewed them within days of their runaway marriage.

There are instances of marital happiness when the wife is older too. The incomparable Jennifer Kendall was four years older to Shashi Kapoor when they got hitched in the conservative 1950s but it resulted in decades of contentment. Aishwarya may be a few years (who’s counting?) older than Abhishek Bachchan but they have made their decade-old marriage work.

Dinesh Raheja column: Why do May-December matches ignite a backlash?

Having provided the statistics, my contention is that there is no need to be prophets of doom to predict disaster for celebrities who seem to have found their happiness in a younger partner. Even if we were to assume the cynics are right about Malaika and PC lulling themselves into a false sense of complacency, who are we to stir them out of their happy slumber or castigate them with vitriolic comments? Why stack up the number of failed May-December marriages and insist that the marriages that have worked are an exception rather than the rule? If love is genuine, it generally finds a way.

Jab miya-biwi raazi toh kya karega Qazi?

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