Now that the dust has (somewhat) settled on Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas’ whirlwind romance that culminated into almost-confirmed rumours of engagement and impending nuptials, let’s take a minute to talk about Priyanka Chopra’s age. And how ridiculously delightful it is that a 36-year-old woman is (supposedly) marrying a man 11 years her junior, in twin cultures that fetishise youth to the point of absurdity. To do so while straddling Bollywood, and trying to get a strong toehold in Hollywood, is definitely worthy of admiration.
Anyone who is hovering close to the widely dreaded 30-year-mark, or has crossed it, knows that ageism lurks everywhere — culturally and professionally — in the world we currently inhabit. More terrifyingly, the age at which one starts feeling its tentacles closing in seems to be shrinking rapidly. In less than a decade, one can go from being the hottest up-and-coming player on the block to irrelevant, obsolete, and worthy of public ridicule. The cultural power is firmly vested in the youth, and membership requirements to this exclusive club become more and more difficult to fulfill every day.
One of the worst things you can be in our world is old — what deserves this horrifying epithet of ‘old’ is a wholly different matter, and a grouse for another day — but the absolute worst thing you can be is old and female, especially in entertainment.
Forget the biological badges that come with age, women in entertainment aren’t even afforded the dignity of admitting to their real age. I’ve watched models and actresses in their teens being schooled by shrewd managers and publicists to shave off a couple of years from their age so they can enjoy a longer shelf-life later in life, when, in their late 20s or early 30s, they suddenly find themselves too ‘mature’ to star alongside men with sons and daughters their age, and so begins the inexorable decline to hapless mother-sister roles.
It’s refreshing, and empowering, to see someone break this delicate contract between a female celebrity and her age. At a time when the entertainment industry is all but the kingdom of the young, and in a culture where the idea of growing old is unbearable to most people, Priyanka Chopra has entered a relationship, possibly a marriage, that will ensure that her age firmly becomes a part of her narrative. The difference between Jonas and her age has been discussed ad nauseam on social media, mostly derisively, ever since the first whispers of their romance reached the ears of the public. There’s no disentangling Chopra from her age, at least for the time being.
It’s heartening to see a powerful woman embrace her age and get on with whatever it is that she wants to do, instead of being terrified by it and all the nasty things people invariably have, and will continue, to say about women who don’t fit their definition of what constitutes ‘age appropriate’ behaviour. While men can roam the planet, sowing their wild oats and refusing to grow up, or take responsibility for their actions well into their 50s — we do, after all, insist on benevolently calling two of Bollywood’s biggest overgrown babies bhai and baba — women constantly need to worry about what they wear, how they speak, what they utter, and who they marry, keeping their age in mind.
Real life is not very different from reel life, in some ways. Ask any woman, of any age, who has been subjected to the indignity of the Indian arranged marriage market, and you’ll hear countless stories of how men in their 40s and 50s will calmly and rightfully seek brides in their 20s and 30s, but a woman in her 30s will be laughed all the way to a nervous breakdown if she has the temerity to pick a suitor a few years younger. A man with a woman half his age is just a man, but a woman with someone younger suddenly finds herself saddled with a new identity — cougar, MILF, other derogatory terms — and the butt of stale jokes that revolve around this new identity.
Priyanka Chopra might not be like the rest of us. At 36, she might look like 25, and have skin as smooth as a baby’s bottom. But I’ll bet that even she has days when she feels 100, on the inside, especially when she reads the uncharitable things people have to say about her younger beau.
No one deserves that.
Growing old is not a sin, and to let your body accept its biology should not feel like an act of rebellion. But while it does, the least we can do is not crack witless jokes and celebrate all kinds of relationships — even those that don’t fit our ageist templates.